[O]ur bodies should be loved within the problem, as part of our whole life’s experience. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies
About a year ago, my L5 disc slipped out of alignment. I’m not sure exactly what did it. Whatever the cause, the pain began to wake me up at night, then to keep me from sleeping, then to keep me from moving freely until I was in constant pain and afraid to move for fear I was making it worse. All my home remedies failed.
Since I didn’t have insurance at the time, I went to a free clinic, got some heavy pain medication (thank you, government funding), and was told to stretch regularly and the pain would go away in time for our wedding in April.
The night before our wedding, the pain was so severe that I didn’t sleep at all.
As soon as my husband’s insurance kicked in the Monday after our honeymoon, I went to the chiropractor for the first time. He x-rayed my back and discovered I have scoliosis and that my slipped disc was inflamed and was causing sciatica in both legs. So I began the long process of being adjusted three times a week, icing my back in 20-minute intervals, and stretching.
Now, a year later, I still have a slipped disc, and it still presses on my sciatic nerve when I’ve been sitting too long or driving any distance. The pain is more manageable now, and I have developed a greater tolerance for it. But I will be going to the chiropractor for the rest of my life.
Maybe one day I will be pain-free, but there’s no guarantee. All I can do is stretch, ice my back, and minimize the amount of sitting I do as much as possible.
Chapter 7: Relating to Our Bodies in Illness and Disability
Yesterday we looked at what happens to our bodies when we experience healing and empowerment. But what about when our bodies are in pain, sick, or permanently altered? How should we relate to our bodies then?
Wuellner suggests that we give our bodies some grace and allow them to do the necessary work to find healing and balance again. It’s not easy to do:
Somehow we must maintain the miracle of wholeness and healing when the body and mind work together in loving unity within God’s embrace and at the same time acknowledge the presence of mystery, knowing that we do not have all the answers, knowing that God works ceaselessly with our body and mind to bring light out of darkness.
In fact, Wuellner acknowledges just how hard it is to give our bodies the grace and space necessary for healing. We often get in our own way:
The very work the body is doing makes it hard for us to love and communicate with it. It is hard for us not to hate and repudiate our body when it signals extreme discomfort and pain. It is hard not to blame it, or at least ignore and escape from it, by merely deadening the symptoms.
My experience with my back pain is certainly not as extreme as some. I haven’t had to have surgery yet. I’m still able to walk, sit when I need to, and function virtually normally. I am lucky that the scoliosis is mild and that chiropractic adjustments help with the pain.
But I have to say, I’ve been mightily frustrated with my body over the past year. I’ve blamed and accused it. I’ve ignored it. I’ve beaten it into submission so I can get things done. Only my husband knows how much I have complained and cried.
But Wuellner advocates that we do not have to live in such a state of “bondage” to our body’s situation: “Bondage is the feeling that our lives are out of control; that we have no choices or alternatives; that there is no more “new creation”; that we are living in captive obedience rather than in relationship. God sets us free to discover that each moment, within grace, opens endless creative possibilities.”
How do we experience this freedom in the midst of our bodily illness or disability? Here are some of Wuellner’s suggestions:
- Enter into a warm, appreciative, listening relationship with your body before illness strikes.
- Be in close touch with your body’s wisdom as it works for healing.
- Ask your body what you, your conscious self, can do to help in the way of diet, rest, exercise, and daily life.
- Do not set timetables for healing, and do not push or force.
- Respect the body’s own rhythm of timing and healing.
- Remind yourself that the body has not suddenly become your enemy.
- Be patient, realizing that the body has to get in touch with the depths of our subconscious mind and do quite a lot of other work before the outer symptoms being to change.
- Be confident that your body hears you and is aware of your efforts to show grace and patience. There may not be a complete cure, but something will begin to happen.
I don’t know about you, but I need to hear this today. Instead of complaining about the pain today, I’m going to lie down for a while (because sitting hurts) and try to communicate some grace and patience to my body. I’m going to apologize for not being more understanding, and I’m going to wait and listen for any wisdom my body has to participate in the healing process.
If you are in pain or ill today, I encourage you to join me, and come back later to share how things went in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you!