learning from my little toe

I recently smashed my little toe against a chair leg. It hurt. I yelped. The pain was so bad that as I looked down at my little toe I half expected to see it hanging limply from my foot, or even having been amputated altogether. It wasn’t, it was still attached correctly. But it hurt.

Over the next 24 hours the toe gradually grew purpler, remaining as tender as ever. Then other colours starting joining the party in my little toe and migrating across the whole of my foot. I was sure that my toe was not broken because when I (like a brave little soldier) flexed my toes it joined all the others in bowing its toenail head. It hurt, but it worked.

Having a poorly little toe had several wider effects. One was that it affected my gait slightly. I don’t think I limped but there were occasions when I shuffled. Another was that putting shoes on or taking them off hurt a lot so once I got a pair of shoes on I tended to keep them on for the day. And I realised that I really did need a new pair of slippers which, had I been wearing them at the time of the impact between my toe and the chair leg might have protected me from the worst of the pain.

As I reflected (bravely) on the pain in my toe I was reminded of some words that Paul wrote about churches in 1 Corinthians 12 (NIVUK) – my emphasis:

1Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

I had taken my little toes for granted, ignoring them unless the nail became too long or sharp. They were weak, irrelevant and I could do without them. However, once one of them was damaged I realised just how much work they do, and how much they are needed to help me keep my balance and to walk. Tiny little things in relation to my whole body, but really useful.

A while ago I spoke about the ‘body of Christ’ metaphor in the Bible and spoke about armpits. If I asked people which part of the body they thought they were, I don’t think anyone would say that they are an armpit. But armpits are essential to help prevent the body from overheating. Why do they get hot and sweaty? They are one of the body’s heat-sinks, a place where excess heat is got rid of.

Now, if I am asked to speak about the ‘body of Christ’ metaphor I might also speak about little toes and how important they are even though they appear insignificant. I might speak about how the whole body is affected by a little toe that has been badly bruised by being smashed into a chair leg. I might speak about how it’s indispensable. I might even suggest that perhaps Paul wrote this after he had hurt his little toe at some stage because he seems to understand how much it affects you.

So if you are a part of a church and feel insignificant, perhaps you are a little toe. You may think that you don’t do anything but by being part of that church you are helping to provide balance. If you weren’t there the church would be diminished. You are part of what helps the church to move forward – God can speak through you in decision-making as much as anyone, which is why you ought to try to get to church meetings if you can.

And if you are in pain, ill or unwell, if the church is any good, it will affect them all. You won’t suffer alone. You won’t feel neglected. You won’t feel as if you don’t matter because the love that is received from God is shared between you, among you and through you all.

And if you are part of a church leadership, make sure you watch out for the little toes in your church. They are essential and as important as everyone else, and if they are hurting you ought to feel it too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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