For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over."
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain. Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball.
So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Jason and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a day in Washington D.C. together. While we were waiting on our bus, we took turns listing off some of our favorite memories from the past 15 years, one at a time. He would describe a memory; I would smile and nod. I would recall something; he would smile and nod. After this had gone on quite awhile and we both had unfading smiles on our faces and fond memories filling our minds, it dawned on me that none of the memories we listed as our favorites occurred on holidays. Huh. Interesting. We didn’t say, “Remember that Christmas when…,” or “I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving when…” It seemed that our best memories happened when we weren’t planning for them to happen!
This was a major revelation to me. It is something that I am still pondering now, a few days later. You see, I’m “the planner.” I’m the one who sees a holiday coming on the calendar and is prone to feel more PRESSURE than pleasure. The pressure of who to spend it with, where to spend it at, how much money to spend, how to make it the most memorable, how to make it meaningful (particularly if it is a faith-centered holiday), how to incorporate tradition and still try new things. It’s no wonder that my favorite memories don’t seem to happen on holidays! They happen on days when I’m not feeling pressured to MAKE memories. When I’m just living life and remembering to appreciate the people I’m with, the places I’m at, and the God who generously provided both. They happen, not when my mind is focused on the details of executing a plan, but when the overriding agenda is being 100% present in the given moment.
A great example of this is a vacation we took to Disney World when our son was 9. I planned my hiney off, folks. As we prepared to leave, I knew I was on the precipice of dangerous territory. I had spent so much time doing so much research that I was poised to spend our trip being so interested in doing things in “the right order” and in “the most efficient way” that I would frustrate my guys and suck the joy right out of the only family vacation we’d had in years. Thank God for self awareness! Somehow, I caught a glimpse of where my pressure-filled, over-planning tendency was heading and I was able to shut it off… that mental compulsion to execute the plan at all costs. Instead, I told myself I had prepared well and now it was time to hold all of that information in reserve and pull it out when it was needed, but not be enslaved to it or force others to conform to it. The result – we had a BLAST! Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Most of the fun we had and the most lasting memories we made were completely unexpected, like the people we met while sitting in line for a ride in the Animal Kingdom waiting out a thunder storm and the instant bond we formed with them, spending the rest of the evening together going on the same two rides together as a big group over-and-over-and-over again until the park closed and they actually closed the ride down while we were on it; or the daily afternoon family nap we ended up taking at our hotel during the hottest part of the day (if I had planned that ahead of time, both the guys would have balked and it would have seemed like a drag… but it happened naturally and we all laugh about how hard we crashed each afternoon to this day).
So now we look forward to the next 15 years, and hopefully learn from the best memories of the first 15. Here’s to holding our plans loosely, and to waking up each day with the realization that we don’t have to MAKE memories happen. Our God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. We don’t have to cleverly conjure up gifts for ourselves – we just have to unwrap His gifts when He gives them! He has built joy into the equation of our lives and He is the one who knows how to bring it out at just the right time to create moments that leave a permanent smile in our souls. No amount of human planning can equal that!
“What’s the worst that could happen?” Have you ever been faced with something that was causing you anxiety and when you reached out to a friend or family member to help you process it, she responded with that question? It’s a good exercise, don’t you think? Facing that thing you are inwardly fearing the most? Well, it is the start of a good exercise, anyway.
Up until that point, you probably haven’t actually said OUT LOUD what the worst case scenario actually is… it has just been haunting the depths of your mind without ever taking a clear shape. So you come right out and say it. The worst case scenario is… Fill in the blank. I lose my job. We lose our house. Someone I love dies. Someone I love leaves me. The doctor will say it is cancer. I will screw up royally and hurt other people. The truth will come out and I will lose the respect of those who I cherish. Whatever the “worst that could happen” in any given situation happens to be, is now out there on the table. You’ve said it. Whew! That’s a relief, right?
Not necessarily. Your friend probably asked that question because she doesn’t think it is likely that the worst case scenario will actually occur. She wants you to say it out loud so she can remind you that it probably won’t happen like that. If the conversation stops with simply answering that question, however, our fear and anxiety may actually increase rather than diminish. Because, even though your friend is playing the odds and counting on positivity to rule the day, you know that even if it isn’t likely… it is possible… and now you’ve said it out loud and have no answers.
A better response to gain peace and arrive at the place where you are getting the upper hand on your fear is to START by asking that question, but not to STOP there. Once you’ve identified your worst case scenario and said it out loud, don’t play the odds. Don’t talk about how likely or unlikely that result is… it doesn’t matter – you don’t know the future so wasting time trying to predict it is futile. Instead, ask the next important question: Then what?
Beth Moore demonstrates this beautifully (and somehow humorously) in one of the lessons she teaches in her study on the biblical book of Esther. In Esther’s story, we see her come to the point where she realizes that the worst case scenario in her situation is that she will die. The king will have her killed for daring to appear before him uninvited. She faces this worst case scenario and in the end asks for the prayers and support of her people and then says, “If I perish, I perish.” As Beth reflects on this idea of facing your fear, she talks about how she occasionally would develop a horrible fear that her husband was going to be attracted to another woman. It would build up inside her and every time he was distant or came home later than expected, or just didn’t seem like himself, the fear would rise immediately to the surface and her thoughts would be plagued with the worst case scenario. So she finally asked herself. “What IS the worst case scenario?” In her mind, the worst possibility was that he wasn’t just attracted to another woman, but that he loved her, and that she was darling and beautiful, and that her own children liked this other woman! Okay. “Then what?” Well, I would be devastated!!! I would throw a fit, a big fit! I would writhe on the floor in pain and my heart would break! Okay. “Then what?” I would be consumed with thoughts of them together and I would have to lay down on the floor with my Bible on my head (you’d have to know Beth Moore to imagine her saying all this. She is a kick) and listen to worship music in the car really loud and cry out to God just to make it through each day. Okay. “Then what?” Well, I’d be mad as a hornet for quite a while and I might take it out on other people until I got a hold of it. Okay. “Then what?” Well, eventually, I’d get back up. Go back to ministry and take it one day at a time.
Well, what do you know about that?! If you ask enough “Then what’s?” you eventually get to a place where a new normal emerges in your realm of possibility… one that is hard, but doable. One that helps you to take in the worst case scenario and not just play the odds, but face the fear and see the hope on the other side.
A word of caution: Faith is the basis of all of this. Faith in God and His goodness and in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises. If you don’t have that as a starting place, then asking yourself “Then what?” is a dangerous proposition, indeed. In Esther’s case, the end result was the possibility of her death… that thought isn’t going to fill you with hope unless you have a faith in what comes after death. So depending on where your relationship is with God today, you may want to start with a different question… before jumping to “What’s the worst that could happen?” why not try, “Is there a God who loves me?”
There is. He does.
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart."
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!