Pastoral Perspectives


Three months ago, I told the congregation that I was going for a surgery to fix a prolapsed (slipped) disc that was impinging the nerve root, thus sending pain down my left leg. I remembered sharing with you that it would be a key-hole surgery. The surgeon told me that it was a simple procedure and when I asked him whether I would be well enough to attend the church retreat at the end of the week, he said that that should not pose a problem. And so my expectations were set.

Being put through the cylindrical chamber to do my MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was a kind of rendezvous because some fifteen years ago, I was in a similar position, albeit in a narrower chamber. The purpose then was to see whether they could find any tumour in my nasal cavity. By the mercies of God, they could not find anything even though the blood test results recorded a very high positive for nose cancer. The purpose of the MRI this time round was to find out what was wrong with my back as I had been having some pain in my left leg for about two months. The orthopaedic surgeon suspected that I had a prolapsed disc. The MRI confirmed the surgeon’s suspicion. The disc between my L4 and L5 (lumbar spine) was already degenerating and my hunch was that while playing with Gavriel (my 5-year old) – piggy backing him and making sharp twists to the left and right – I might have caused the disc to slip out of position, thus starting my whole ordeal.

The surgeon recommended immediate operation since I had been plagued with the condition for two months already. The plan was to chip off that part of the disc that was affecting the nerves. I must confess that here was a classic example of me choosing what I wanted to hear and believing what I wanted to believe, but at the end of the day, it could not stand up against the truth. What do I mean? I assumed that it would be a key-hole surgery because the surgeon made the recovery process sound so straight forward. Well, it wasn’t a key-hole surgery after all, and on hindsight, the surgeon did not say anything about giving me a key-hole surgery. It was all based on my own conjecture! Whatever I thought and believed was not important; what really mattered was the truth and the truth was that I was given a micro-discectomy. The incision was 2/3 the length of my pointer (finger). As the incision was small, the surgeon had to cut through muscles in order to reach the disc. Though the surgical wound took two weeks to heal, the muscles took six weeks and then according to the surgeon, it would take another two to three months for me to regain my full functionality. I am feeling stronger week by week; the spasm has gone but the stiffness and soreness linger.

I have plenty to give thanks to God for. I thank God that Ai Tin was prompted to upgrade our family’s insurance policy by purchasing a rider late last year. The upgrade would enable us to enjoy 100% coverage of all our medical expenses. It started with Gavriel (my youngest) who was hospitalised for micro plasma and then Gaius (my eldest), for pneumonia, and then Ai Tin had to undergo an endoscopy and I had to go for this back surgery. We had very good medical care throughout and I am deeply grateful to God for His timely provision.

This is the first time I have been hospitalised. I thank God for giving me good health all these years. Through this period of recuperation, I also thank God for the opportunity to be at the receiving end. The love that brothers and sisters in Christ have shown is immense – your prayers, your encouragement cards and text messages, your most considerate gifts to boost my health. I am also thankful to my colleagues who shared my workload while I was on medical leave. I am really grateful for everyone who rallied around me. I have experienced God’s love through the love that you have shown. In short, I have experienced community.

I am thankful for Ai Tin who has been such a pillar of strength. She took care of my physical needs, often rubbing my sore back with ointment. Our house is presently undergoing renovation so over the past weeks, Ai Tin had the back breaking task of packing and organising the move, notwithstanding the routine household chores and child minding. My threshold for pain is pretty low and so it was really not easy to live with someone who was pretty edgy and moody. Ai Tin really had the full dose of what it means to be there for me ‘in sickness and in health’.

I have also learnt some precious lessons from the whole process. Simple things like getting out of bed and getting up from the toilet seat and just merely getting up from the dining table actually require many muscles and nerves to make those actions happen. At the initial stage of recovery, I had to exert so much effort to carry out these simple actions. Only then did I realise that I had taken all those abilities for granted. The psalmist said that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139.14) – all the intricacies and complexities of our bodies are weaved together by our Creator. We really do not need to look beyond our body to comprehend that a Creator exists.

The Apostle Paul was so apt in using the human body as an analogy to describe the Body of Christ. Every part of the body is important and when one part of the body is not functioning well, all the other parts of the body will also be affected. Paul said: ‘If one member (of the body) suffers, all suffer together’ (1 Corinthians 12.26). I commented to the physiotherapist that my stiffness seems to be ‘running’ all over my back – sometimes it’s felt on the left side and other times on the right. She explains that this can happen when we are not using the right set of muscles to move about and when we use one part of the body to compensate for another part, the former will soon feel achy and sore. The different parts of our physical body are so interconnected, so are we as different members of Christ’s body. We need to have the same care for one another. Our actions and words have repercussions on other members of God’s family so we need to exercise greater love, greater compassion and greater humility if we want to safeguard the unity of the Body.

I can now better empathise with those who suffer from backaches and back pains – the persistent discomfort, the roller coaster ride of feeling better on good days and feeling terrible and even defeated on not so good days. I take comfort in the Word of God: ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty’ (Psalm 91.1). ‘Shadow’ is a Hebrew metaphor for ‘protection’ as shade protects one from the heat of the hot desert sun. It’s very comforting to know that we can remain rested in the omnipotent God who will protect us from anything that works contrary to His good, perfect and pleasing will for us!

Our body, like it or not, ages as time passes, mine is without exception. I have to be a good steward of this body of mine, and remember that I am no longer in my 20s but 40s, and there are things that I used to do with ease which I may not be able to do now. I am reminded that our bodies are frail and perishable. They are a vivid reminder that our time on earth is also a temporary one, filled with vulnerabilities and uncertainties. We are sojourners and exiles of this world after all. Our hope lies in the fact that we are en route to our heavenly Home where we will be given healthy bodies, imperishable ones, where there shall be ‘neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain’ (Revelation 21.4). Meanwhile, we journey on as faithful pilgrims.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

September 14, 2014