Those who know me well know that my 2012 crawled to a close with a whimper and a moan. An old back injury flared up with a bone spur off my spine that keeps me in a constant state of excruciating pain and chronic distress. I have NEVER experienced pain like this — and I hope it is making me much more sympathetic and empathetic with those who live this way all the time. I would wish this on no one, ever, for any reason. The other major event was the death of my father on December 23. Due to my back, I was unable to attend his memorial service and be with my family. (Poor me…)
The significance of these last couple months is a threefold challenge to my personal worldview: control, patience, and perspective.
I don’t consider myself a control freak, and others have commented on my ability to adapt and make quick changes when things don’t go as planned. However, almost eight weeks into a reality of sharp, disabling pain, I realize how much I hate not having control over my own body and how much I resist things simply beyond my control. I live in the subtle, yet false sense of being in control. It borders on the delusional how completely we feel like we are the masters of our own destinies and daily lives. We make decisions, we program our computers, fill our calendars, connect through our pads and pods and phones — and for those of us fortunate enough to be lower-middle-class on up — do pretty much whatever we want to. When showering and dressing become the major achievements of the day, one ponders just how “in control” one truly is… I have had to cancel trips, meetings, family events, all because I cannot physically ride in a plane or car for more than an hour without ending up in agony. I cannot begin to express how much I hate feeling so fragile and vulnerable. Being a good American male, I was taught to suck it up and push through — and most of my life I’ve done this fairly well — but this has me beat. If I try to push through and ignore the pain, I only make it worse.
The interesting thing about my resistance to giving up control is that I espouse a faith that demands total surrender and turning control over to God. True discipleship requires that Jesus “take the wheel” and we follow (rather than give the orders). Humility, forgiveness for enemies, unconditional love, giving, sacrifice, obedience, restorative justice — these are not easy functions for someone who likes to be in control. I profess to having “given my life to God,” yet I learn that I am not very good at giving up control. Hmmmm.
I know myself well enough to know that I lack patience. Scale of 1 to 100, I am about a seven on the patience scale. For the last two months I have been crawling out of my own skin with impatience and anxiety. I want this over NOW. I am done with the pain, done with the lying around, done with the pain killers, done with the falling behind at my job. I hate not getting back to “normal,” and it has crossed my mind many times “what if this never went away?” I cannot conceive living this way for a long period of time. I don’t know how people do it. I do not know what it takes to cope with this level of pain on a regular basis. I fractured my back when I was 20 and I’ve lived with a low level chronic pain for the past 35 years, but nothing like this.
Paul mentions his “thorn in the flesh,” an affliction that he gave thanks to God for because it helped him stay humble and focused. I’m not to that point. I am not thankful for this pain, and I do not yet see the value in an affliction that consumes so much time, energy, and attention. It is inescapable, and thus far I have not found the strength and determination to rise above. (Though I do have an assurance that this spur will deteriorate and stop causing such severe pain within the next few weeks!) If I have any patience at all, it revolves around the promise that I won’t endure this pain much longer.
And my perspective has been broadened by all of this. I am so much more sensitive to those who suffer, who are despairing, who are fighting to maintain hope, and who anticipate a future of decline and limitation. I am so fortunate in so many ways. I have so much. I am very comfortable. I have a life filled with good things. I have wonderful relationships that are beyond price. I am privileged in so many ways. I have so much more than the vast majority of people on this planet. I have nothing to gripe about. Yet, here I am feeling sorry for myself. God, forgive me.
My greatest hope is that when this bone spur finally detaches, the pain will leave but the lessons will stay. I realize that it is too easy to “learn” while the affliction is present then forget as soon as it’s gone. I want there to be some lasting value in this period of pain and frustration — if I don’t learn anything from it, what’s the point? This rough patch has been a huge reality check for me, and I hope to emerge from it smarter and stronger. We’ll see. 2013 is a chance for new beginnings. May God grant us wisdom to learn and grow and be better than we’ve been before.
Categories: Personal Reflection