Do you ever have this feeling that you’re onto something big….I mean something really big. Like something that is not only going to change your present, but also your future and your past. Please tell me I’m not the only one to have this feeling.
Friends, I feel like I’m onto something big. It’s still coming into focus and I’m afraid I might be premature in trying to write about it–like nailing Jello to a tree it keeps slipping through my fingers. Would you indulge me as I try? And give me grace as my words fail? And, please, would you consider slipping your thoughts into the comments, that we may try to find the words together?
I have hurt for nearly a third of my life. It’s not continual, and it’s not always excruciating, but it is an unpredictable presence that is always hanging around the shadows of my mind, an ever-present dread that too-often colors my days.
For many years, this unwelcome companion had no name. It was only recently that we were properly introduced. I wore a polite smile, the one you put on when you have to go to a business dinner with your husband, when you’d so much prefer staying home in your jammies. With great force of will, you put aside your desires for comfort, and spend the evening wearing uncomfortable underwear, smiling, nodding and shaking hands.
“Hello, Ulcerative Colitis. Pleasure to meet you.”
This became my coping mechanism. Not quite denial. More of a constant, low-grade seething bitterness that was plastered over with a polite smile. On the outside I could talk freely about my companion, about my pain. I could even smile while doing it. And say things like, “Oh, well. What’m I going to do about it?” or “God is still in control!” (cue the smile…)
But on the inside the bitterness was festering. I hated my body for not working correctly, I hated doctors for not helping me, I hated other people for offering back to me the very attitude that I had put on. I think I may have even hated God for not healing me.
I didn’t know I felt this way. My smile was so good that it convinced even me. And so I have traveled through this season like I did through every other hard thing I’ve ever done–with a fierce grip of self-control, white-knuckles leading the way. Illness was an enemy to be attacked and conquered, and sheer determination would bring me victory.
One day my yoga instructor asked me, “Do you talk to your gut?” The question caught me off guard and I didn’t have time to prepare an answer. So I blurted out, “Yes, but I don’t say very nice things.” And I began to see myself for the first time.
I honestly had no idea that I was saying mean things to myself, about my body, about others, about God. But when I heard myself say this, I wondered–was it true? I began to watch for it, and I was a little shocked to find that it was.
A few weeks ago, the evening found me curled up in bed in such pain that I couldn’t sleep. By two a.m. I was weeping. I tried to get outside of myself to hear the tapes playing in my head, to listen for the things I was telling myself.
It wasn’t pretty. I heard myself saying words to my body that I would never dream of saying to anyone else, much less to someone who, like my gut, was sick and could only do what it was able to do and no more. It was like watching myself berate my two-year-old for not having good table manners.
As I watched this, the only way I’d ever known of coping with pain, crumble before my eyes, I realized I needed a new coping mechanism. My white knuckles were fighting for their lives. This coping mechanism that had fought for me my entire life, was looking at its own death. And friends, if you’ve never been there, it’s a very scary place to be. To willingly let go of this thing that has, up to this point, ensured your survival feels desperately terrifying. Like letting go of the rope.
I remembered words from a friend, “Pain is not your enemy.”
Now, when my friend first said this to me, I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. Of course pain is the enemy. It hurts! And yet, treating it as my enemy, had proven useless. I had fought and battled for years and my symptoms were only getting worse. In my mind, I was losing. And someone who is losing a battle will grasp at anything that promises a vestige of victory.
So I changed the tapes playing in my head. With great intention, I told myself “Pain is not my enemy. Pain is not my enemy.” I threw in a few phrases of genuine encouragement and praise towards my gut, just like I praise my two-year-old when the food goes in her mouth and not flying across the table.
And in that moment, can you even guess what I felt? I know you’re going to think I’m lying to you. To be perfectly honest, I thought I was lying to myself. Because actually it was what I didn’t feel that I noticed. My pain was gone.
For a girl who has grown up white-knuckling her way through life, who has a well-worn pair of boot straps tucked into her purse always at the ready, who looked suspiciously at everything God gave her before deciding what she would and would not accept into her life–for this girl to embrace the pain and essentially say, “Yes, God. Amen,” let’s just say I would have sooner expected to hear my two-year-old say, “Please, Mother, would you pass the peas?”
Is this how Eucharisteo works? This giving thanks in all things? Has it actually led me to be, at least marginally, thankful for chronic illness? Like I said, I think I’m onto something big.
I heard recently of some Godly saint who wrote “For everything that is past, thank You. And for everything that is to come, yes.” This is my prayer. That I, too, can say this.
For all that is past, for pain, for brokenness, for humanity, for the wounds that we give each other, and for the burdens You give to us, for sickness, and even for pain, thank You.
And for whatever lays ahead, whether illness or health, sorrow or joy, pain or relief, yes!
I can be honest and say that maybe my heart isn’t in it yet. But I truly believe that oftentimes we lead with our lips, and our hearts follow. And so, my lips will be thankful, until my heart learns to be, too.
* Joining Ann at