When Your Body Has Something to Say

Our bodies have much to tell us if we could only figure out how to listen. In fact, oftentimes God speaks through the body. Learning to honor the body as a place where God makes his presence known becomes, then, an important discipline for the spiritual pilgrim.
— Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

It’s been 9 months since I underwent occipital decompression surgery.  An event that marks my life in halves – before surgery (BS is an actual great shorthand for what it was like. Ha!) and after surgery.  It’s an event that radically shifted everything in my life.  From one of survival, pushing through pain day after day with no real answers or solutions on the horizon to one of learning again how to flourish. 

It’s like learning to live again.  It’s rediscovering who I am when I actually have the choice to say "yes" to friend's invitations, "yes" to loud music in the morning, "yes" to late nights and loud movies, and "yes" to playing at the park in the afternoons with my kids chasing geese and eating juicy strawberries. 

The miracle of this surgery is the relentless, never-ending, beast of a headache that dominated my life for almost four years is gone.  My headaches have been reduced by 90% from experiencing migraine pain every day to 2-3 headache days a month. The overall pain level has dropped from an 8 to a 4 when I do have one on occasion. I haven't had to inject abortive medication, and I no longer spend 2-3 nights a week in a dark room with ice on my head.

Sometimes it doesn’t even seem real.  I haven’t crossed the threshold where I don’t live in fear of it returning, but I’m inching my way there. Day by day.

The recovery hasn’t been easy.  My body is slow to heal and continues to remind me when I push the gas pedal too hard.  I’m living in a slower state of being than ever before, and rest has been my closest companion for some time now. The recovery has been up and down depending on the week or month.  I saw my surgeon this week after two rough weeks of nerve activity to only be reminded by him again, “everyone’s nerves heal at a different rate. Yours are slower to regenerate and heal.  They just aren’t ready.”  To which I replied, “Well, I am ready!”  He laughed and said, “Of course you are. You were ready the first week.”  The reality is that the nerves could take their dear sweet time and on rare occasion take up to two years to heal. I am still on a low dose of nerve pain medication, and we were hoping that I would begin stepping down this week, but my nerves aren’t ready.  My body isn’t on the same timeline as me.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah allows himself to become so run down that he curls up under a bush and after praying to God to die, he sleeps. In this moment of sheer exhaustion, God sends an angel. Rather than waking him up and addressing his hopeless prayer and spiritual condition, the angel first cares for Elijah’s body. The angel provides for Elijah's physical needs telling him to eat, drink and rest.  Not just once. But twice. The angel points out that the journey, where God was calling him, would be too great unless he first cared for his body.  It is only after Elijah’s body has been cared for that he is able to continue the mission that God had him on.

The spiritual discipline of honoring the body does not come easy for me. It’s counter intuitive for me to listen to my body. If I am honest, I need my body to listen to me. To just do what I need it to do and perform on command, on my schedule.

But God is teaching me that he cares not just for my spiritual condition but all of parts of me and all aspects of my life.  My body is His sacred dwelling place. He is doing healing work, and while I want to rush ahead, He has something more for me here in this season of slowness and waiting, something more for me to learn through listening.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Waiting for the promise means paying attention to what is happening right now before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glory.”

So, I honor my body. I listen. I wait. And I pray.

The first rays are breaking through, and I’m praying for the day I bask in the fullness of the healing. Thank you for praying with me, friends.