Once again, it’s been very quiet on Surrender The Day. That usually means I am just hanging on. Barely. I’ve been struggling with a variety of health issues that all cause some sort of pain or discomfort. I keep thinking “I don’t have time for this!” There is so much my spirit and mind want to do that my body just won’t let me. I find myself fighting the pain. Fearing the pain. But through it all a truth rises up … from Facebook of all places. I don’t know where this quote came from, so please excuse the lack of proper literary credit! But, when I read this, it stopped me in my tracks and something in me broke free. Here’s my new found secret …
Wait. Make room for pain? Sounds a little too masochistic, right? We expect pain to be temporary, like a nurse with a shot promising “This will just hurt for a second and then it will be all over!” (which, according to my son Michael, is a big fat lie). We pray harder. We do all the “right things” to make it go away. But it doesn’t. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Relational pain. It’s set up permanent residence in our life. This sounds all doom and gloom, I know. But, this truth is important to me because I used to think that if my life had pain in it then there must be something I was doing wrong or something I could do to make it go away. I kept waiting to really live until the pain stopped, or at least lessened. I thought I could control it and my failure to control it made life unbearable. But, ever so slowly, I think I’m learning the secret to living with chronic illness and pain.
Make room for it. Stop fearing it. Stop judging it. Stop trying to hide from it. Pain is, and always will be, a part of life on this fallen earth. We may escape it’s clutches in one form only to be smacked upside the head with it in another area of life. And then there are the times where it feels like the waves of pain just… keep…coming.
When I was a little girl I loved swimming in the ocean. The bigger the waves the better. Boogie boarding my vacation away was pretty much my nirvana. When I first tried to surf the waves, I was continuously knocked down by them crashing over my head and the undertow sucking me under the water. Instead of awesomely riding the top of the wave, I’d surface hungry for air, swallowing half the ocean, face down in the gritty sand and picking small shells out of the butt of my bathing suit.
My Dad was always out there with me, making sure I got up again and a wave didn’t sweep me away. My poor mother looked on with horror as her babies were pummeled by rough surf. To my protective mama her children being in the ocean past their knees was “against her better judgment” (pretty much her favorite phrase growing up). Despite her reservations we’d run into the water with an eye roll and a “We’re fine, mom! Come on!” After all, I knew I was safe with my Daddy out there.
What I didn’t know is that during these long days riding waves in the ocean, I was learning three important rules to riding the waves of chronic pain, how I could “make room for pain” and still find joy in the ride.
- My Daddy was always with me. Ready to jump in and grab me when the surf became more than I could handle. When the water pushed me under and I couldn’t find my footing, my Daddy’s hand was there pulling me up out of the surf. Keeping me afloat. I didn’t need to fear because I knew He was present. Watching. Waiting. Protecting.
- Push past the breakers. The only way to ride the wave was to push past the pounding of crashing water to a place of perspective where I could learn the rhythm of the waves’ crescendos and crashes. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I had to dive head first into a wave about to crash over my head so I could get to the other side. Sometimes I had to run hard and persevere past a current that pushed against me. I knew eventually the current would give way and peaceful waters were waiting for me on the other side. When I could take no more and my legs were aching and my lungs burning, a calm would buoy my body for the next round of waves.
- Don’t fight the waves. Surrender to the ebb and flow of the ocean. Swim with it. Rise as it rises. Fall as it falls. Relax your body to float with the swells. And when it’s time to surf, lean into the crest of the wave. Kick to the top and as it’s about to crash down, let go. Trust. Hold onto the board keeping you afloat and find freedom and joy in the ride. Even when you’re scared. Even when the drop feels like it will never end. Lean in and let the waves’ power take you into shore, back to firm footing. Sometimes the ride ends in a crash and a face full of gritty sand. But you get up. Proudly, pick that sand out of the butt of your bathing suit and look out into the ocean. Look out you see where you came from. The beauty, the power, the fear and exhilaration. Bruised and battered. Beleaguered but not broken. An invisible force carried you to safety. Do that and you’ll get the perfect ride of terror and unbridled joy as you drop from the top of the wave to the crashing water below that you Surrender to it and it takes you in to shore.
This is my ocean. This is why I love to sit on the rocky shores of Maine’s coastline and take in the awesomeness of the sea. Something calls to me as it reflects its Creator. All at once I feel small and powerless but peaceful and protected all the same. This peace is the same peace I can find in my pain. Physical pain has been my constant companion for 15 years. But, it has also been my holy place. My ocean so long ago taught me how to make room for it, ride it, and be broken and scared and joyful and at peace all at once.
How you ask?
Trust my heavenly Father is there to keep me afloat and pull me above the swells when pain sucks me under. Push past the breakers. Dive in and persevere through the pain to the promise of calm waters and perspective – the moments of peace that come just when I need them most to take a breath and float. And finally, don’t fight the waves of pain. Surrender to them. Lean in to that which I fear may break me and ride it in to the firm ground that was always there to begin with – waiting to give me a place to rest and take in the awesome power and beauty in the journey until the next ride.