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10 Things Hay Fever Teaches Us

Nothing puts you in touch with your body as much as when your body is not working well.  Sickness and infirmity remind us of our frailty, our mortality, our physicality.

Yesterday, I had an allergy attack, my first one in five years.  It’s quite shocking how quickly I had forgotten the icky-ness of allergies and gotten used to behaving “normally” when outside.

Here are 10 things having allergies has taught me:

  1. Everything I do has a consequence. Whether I choose to sleep with the window open, ride my bike under blooming trees, or stretch out in the grass for a nap — I will pay for it later.
  2. Breathing is precious, vital, and should not be taken for granted.  The inability to breathe out of my mouth and my nose makes me ever aware of this most basic of involuntary activities my body regulates without my conscious choice.
  3. Life does not stop simply because I am unprepared. (Read: I cannot go anywhere without Kleenex.)
  4. Quick fixes are not long-term solutions.
  5. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to fix a problem or change a circumstance.
  6. I am capable of making choices that affect my body’s well-being. It’s up to me whether those are positive or negative effects.
  7. My body deserves my attention and care, even when it is inconvenient.
  8. All things in moderation. Sometimes when we try too hard to fix a problem, we overcompensate and make everything worse.
  9. Being aware of my own infirmity creates the opportunity for more compassion towards others who struggle with chronic physical ailments.
  10. How I react to my situation is a choice.  Having that choice is an opportunity for growth. Having the opportunity for growth is a gift.

How has physical infirmity influenced your body theology?

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My Body Is Rebelling

I ignore my body.

This can be attributed in part to my nature as an introvert.  I spend a lot of my time alone, thinking and reading, journaling and praying.  I live in my head. I process internally.

In my 28 years, I have at various times deprived my body of food, sleep, human touch, rest, and exercise. I have pressed my body into service to accommodate my intellectual pursuits.  While I lived in my head, my body suffered and struggled and learned to carry on.

Now, my body is rebelling.

I’ve begun to feel like an old person with a worn-out, falling-apart body that won’t listen to me at all when I tell it to stop being silly and behave like it should.  After years of being ignored, my body has gotten fed up.  As I continued to ignore it, my body increased its volume until its (her?) cries have become deafening.

Here’s what my body is yelling:

  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!
  • My shoulder hurts from that car accident we had in 8th grade that you never finished doing the physical therapy exercises for!
  • My back hurts from the scoliosis you never stopped to notice until it got so bad we ended up with a slipped disc and sciatica!
  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!
  • Various portions of my digestive system hurt from all the times you forget to eat or don’t put the energy into preparing a properly balanced meal!
  • My wrists hurt from that pinched nerve we get in the neck every time you try to carry emotional burdens that aren’t yours to bear!
  • My jaw hurts from all that teeth-grinding you do at night when you stay up worrying and over-analyzing instead of letting me rest!
  • My eyes hurt in bright light from all the times you were too busy to stop and buy sunglasses to provide adequate protection!
  • I’m tired from the many, many years you would not let me sleep until I felt rested!

My body is angry at me, and it is rebelling.  It won’t let me get out of bed and do the things I want to do anymore.  My body is finally making itself heard, and it’s yelling so loudly that I can’t help but be the one to submit this time.

Over the last few months, I have begun to learn to listen to my body.  I sleep when I am tired.  I eat when I am hungry, and when I can’t tell if I’m hungry or not, I try to eat anyway.  I wear sunglasses pretty much all the time, even when I drive at night.  I wear a mouth guard to keep myself from grinding my teeth even though it makes me look ridiculous and hard to understand when I talk.  I stay in bed and rest instead of “being productive.” I do my prescribed stretches and ball exercises to help loosen up my back. I lie down or stand instead of sitting to ease the pressure on my sciatic nerve.

These may seem like little things, small changes that don’t matter much.  But the change isn’t small at all.  It’s huge. I have lived so much of my life in opposition to my body, or at least out of touch with it.  I have lived like a docetist or gnostic–more concerned with the life of the mind than the life of the body.  I have lived my life disconnected from myself, and that is not what Jesus had in mind when he came into the world to complete our joy and bring us the fullness of life.  I have talked about the incarnation of Jesus, but I haven’t lived like I value my body as much as I value my mind.

So I’m making a change.  I still have a long way to go, but slowly I am learning to pay attention to my body and adjust my lifestyle to fit its needs.

To give me a place to start, I’ve been reading Prayer and Our Bodies by Flora Slosson Wuellner.  This week, I’ll give you a little taste of what she has to say about the connection between our spiritual selves and our physical selves.

For today, I’ll leave you with some of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  (2Cor 5:4)

What has your body been telling you lately? Share your answer in a comment below to join the conversation.

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