I recently sprained my back.
“How?!” is the first thing that immediately pops out of people’s mouths when they hear that. And “…how old are you??” (Some people only think this in their heads; some people say it out loud.) I’m 24 going on 85, thank you very much. And I have no clue how I did it. No. Clue.
What started off as my back being a bit sore as I was at the grocery store quickly turned into me clutching my back in my kitchen, confusedly telling my roommates I had no idea what was going on. Fast forward a week and a half – including a morning text to my boss of “currently can’t move or get dressed, TBD if I can make it in today”, traveling around with my heated blanket that I was using as a makeshift heating pad, a fun 4 day road trip (OUCH), and more Tiger’s Balm than I knew was possible to put on one body – I was sitting in the doctor’s office hearing the strange diagnosis. “Well, you definitely sprained it.” Add that to my list of fun health problems.
I was given some basic, little stretches to do twice a day. Every morning and every night – sometimes on my lunch break – I lay down on the floor and go through basic movements that should be easy for anyone of my age – and yet I struggle through them. Slowly the tightness fades, slowly my muscles remember how to work and slowly give way to normal movements. Each day it’s a little easier, each day its a quicker turn around. “Keep up with these, and you should be fine in two weeks,” I was told. Funny how seemingly insignificant actions can build up – over time – to life changing healing.
Even funnier? I was actually prescribed yoga. (For those of you who know me – yoga has been a theme in my life recently.) “Wait, I can go?? I’ve been so scared to do anything active, for fear of making it worse.” Turns out, sometimes, the things you fear are what the doctor ordered all along. Turns out yoga with a sprained back is VERY painful. Turns out healing sometimes involves pain…
I’ve, also recently, taken a sabbatical from ministry. (It’s funny, because when you look up sabbatical in the dictionary, it’s “paid time off” and this is very, very unpaid. And yet very needed.) After 4 years in youth ministry, I felt like God was telling me that season was coming to an end. After 24 years of being over-committed, over-stressed, and over-involved, I felt called into a season of stillness, of rest, of being. And let me tell you – at first it was just like my sprained back.
Pain, everywhere, out of no where. When you go from 100 mph to 0, you feel pretty dang useless. You feel broken. You feel off. When you go from earning and achieving and proving and succeeding to … existing, life feels pretty dang hard. You doubt your abilities. You doubt your worth.
At least, I did.
But now I’m learning little stretches to strengthen parts of me. Whispering “I am beloved” every morning, to start my day off in God’s presence, in God’s truth. Saying no to needs, to asks, to opportunities I would normally jump at – for the sake of honoring space in my life. Reminding myself of my true identity every time I grow despondent of my shrinking resume, my meager to-do list, my very un-filled weekend plans. My identity not based on what I earn or what I say or who I spend time with, but based on Who I am created in the image of and Who calls me “friend”, “cherished”, and “daughter”.
Sitting on the couch unable to get up feels a lot like sitting at home on a Thursday night not being at Flood Youth. Or a bible study. Or any kind of ministry. Barely being able to walk to my desk in the morning and walk to my car at the end of the day – doing the bare minimum to avoid pain – can feel like walking into church on Sunday and leaving when the message is over – not being a part of the greeting team, not prayer counseling, not helping clean up. It feels off and unknown and makes me uneasy and I have to fight back feelings of uselessness. But at the same time I know I have to take care of myself. I know I have to do this. If I don’t take care of my back, I can’t do anything. If I don’t take care of myself, of my soul, I can’t do anything well.
It’s just uncomfortable. I don’t know how to walk and I don’t know how to be. The stretches aren’t fun – sometimes I’d rather go back to bed than lie on the floor for 20 minutes, sometimes the lies are easier to listen to than truth – and I just want to be better already. I want the pain to be done already, I want to be normal again.
And – yet – will I ever be ‘normal’ again? Or do I have to find a new normal? Better posture, more daily yoga, a new mattress may be in my future. Quiet, intentional Sabbaths, strict boundaries with my time, true balance may be in my future, as well. I crave a life I once knew, but it was a life that was unhealthy for me. It was a life that was – quite literally, but also figuratively – back breaking. And I can’t go back to that. But, oh, how I want to.
It’s easy to hunch my shoulders and slide into a comfier position on the couch, its easier to agree to – before I know it – 7 things next week. It’s second nature to me. And I put up with it. I mange. But now I need a new way to mange. Stretching my “no” muscle. Strengthening my core – which Hope is at the center of.
So I take little walks at work – with my shoulders back and my core enacted – feeling like a robot, but also feeling like I’m tiptoeing towards health. I have friends who encourage me in my “no”s, who remind me of the growth they’ve seen in this space I’ve created in my life – reminding me that I’m walking towards change.
Healing takes pain, sometimes. Strengthening takes work. There are days when it hurts more than others. There are days when this is harder than others. The trick is to stay faithful in the stretching. Little by little, life has started to look very different. I can move without so much pain. I can sleep better. I’m more comfortable telling people “not now, not in this season” and “I’ll have to think about it before committing to it”; I’m more comfortable in my true identity than ever before.
I’m stretching. I’m whispering.
Slowly, my back is getting stronger. Slowly, Truth is getting louder.