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Trust and Body Theology: what my husband taught me about God

I saw this tweet last week on Anne Lamott’s feed, and I got to thinking.

In grad school, I took a class called Marriage and Interpersonal Relationships in which the professor talked about how people at bottom have either struggles with shame or trust issues.  Everyone has a little of both, but either shame or trust is the key component in why we think the way we think, why we act the way we act, and why we end up in the conflict cycles in relationships that we end up in.

After a lot of soul-searching (and a paper we had to write), I finally came to the conclusion that I am a trust-issue person.  Somehow, being a shame-issue person seemed better or easier to admit, but when I finally realized the truth about my own woundedness, I began to take steps toward my healing.

I did a lot of work on myself after that, which took years.  I remember something a close friend once said about the healing she experienced in her life (as a shame-issue person).  She said that the final healing came from her husband.

That’s what I thought of when I read that tweet the other day. I thought about all the work I did to undo the learning I had learned growing up that no one was trustworthy and that I had to take care of everything myself.  I thought about all the work I did to learn to do more than say the words with my mouth that God is trustworthy; I also had to believe it in my heart.

But at the end of the day, the final healing came from my relationship with my husband.

When I read that tweet, I thought about how I trust my husband implicitly and completely without the slightest twinge of doubt, suspicion, or jealousy.  If he says he’s working late, I know that means he is.  If he chats on Facebook with an old girlfriend, I know they really are just friends. I know because every single day since the day we met he has proven with his behavior that I can trust him. I know because even when some embarrassingly irrational fear emerged while we were dating, and I acted out, he said the words I needed him to say and behaved the way I needed him to behave to prove to me again that I can trust him. I know because if he could see the irrational, embarrassing side of me with all the woundedness still left unhealed and still want to date me and marry me and love me forever, he was worthy of my trust.

And it made me think about God, too, and how hard it is for me to trust God.  It’s easy to love God, serve God, praise God.  But trust?  For some people, believing that God loves them, that they are love-able, is the hardest thing.  For me, believing God is trustworthy (especially believing that I don’t have to earn it) is the hardest thing.  I’ve been slowly healing from this great lie I believed for years, but the final healing came from my husband.

My aunt once said, famously, that sometimes we just want someone with skin on.  Sometimes, no matter how many Bible verses we memorize or how much theology we learn about who God is and who we are, we just can’t accept the truth until we receive it from someone with skin on.

That is the beauty of the incarnation.  God poured all of that majesty and might and holiness and completeness and divinity into one small, simple, ordinary human being.  After everything we had learned, after all our God-encounters throughout history, we just couldn’t get it until we actually saw, felt, heard, and sat at the feet of someone with skin on.

That’s how we’re made.

If my husband — a fallible human being just like I am — can be this honest, this dependable, this trustworthy, then SURELY how much more so is the God we love and serve and praise?

I’m no fool. I don’t expect my husband to be perfect. I know he is not God. I know he will let me down, hurt me, disappoint me, and maybe even betray my trust in him one day. But through his physical presence in my life, I have been able to experience the truth about who God is.  All the Bible verses in the world couldn’t do that.

That is body theology.

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What To Do When It Hurts–and Keeps Hurting

[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!

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