One of my favorite hobbies is running because it provides fresh air and a very quick, affordable workout! And yet over the years, I have succumbed to various running injuries of which my initial approach is to try to push through the discomfort in hopes it will heal on its own. This last round I found myself with a tight hamstring that, despite all kinds of stretching, would not subside. So, I threw on some Icy Hot type substance, put on a leg wrap, turned up the grit, and hit the road. It was the next day I felt that the hamstring injury moved to my back with a zing that would not disappear.
Treating running injuries over time has enabled me to befriend a wonderful Physical Therapist, name Kathleen. Kathleen is a true gem, who puts me back together like Humpty Dumpty after each injury. Sometimes she can fix the issue and have me back running within the week, yet other times it takes a bit longer. On this round, she discouraged me from running for a while, but I developed some restlessness and so out of almost sheer necessity to burn some energy and move my body I decided to bust out some push-ups and heavy core work two days later. Sometimes stubbornness pays off; sometimes it bites you in the butt. Literally. In this case, it was my sacrum (lowest part of the spine) that shot pain through my body right before my foot went numb.
The numbness had me pretty concerned, especially heading into a week of vacation in another state. Although Kathleen worked miracles on my back and got everything to a comfortable position, the foot numbness remained. Nevertheless, we packed the car and headed out on the road. The sitting did it wonders but the restlessness built up and I managed to push too hard, mess up my sacrum again, and send my back into muscle spasms while on vacation.
Not one to let a good, sunny vacation go to waste, I limped around Legoland loading my body with two Ibuprofen every 4 hours. As a general rule, I prefer water, eating healthy, fresh air, and a good night sleep to taking any kinds of medication. However, since I would not have access to PT for a week, I was not finding any comfortable sleeping positions, and I could barely move, I rolled the dice with the Ibuprofen.
The discomfort continued. It was frustrating and out of my control. No matter how hard I tried to push, I could not go fast. I encountered forced sabbath. The idleness created more restlessness and frustration, but I could not go for a run (or even a very brisk walk) to blow off the steam. The discomfort caused a complete break in my regular rhythm. I had a choice - I could continue to try to push hard (and make it worse), or I could choose to let go and be vulnerable to a process - to relax, to go slow, to trust others do some heavy lifting, to heal.
We started our road trip home on Good Friday, and it was a long day of driving. Toward the 7th hour in the car, I could feel the sacrum bone shooting discomfort into my muscles. I tried rolling a tennis ball while sitting in the front seat to loosen the tightness. I sat there in agony, rolling the ball, trying to find a position that would ease the pain. And I started reflecting on the day. Good Friday. The profound historical significance of the day hit me. As I was meditating on the circumstances of the moment a Hillsong United song, So Will I, poured through the radio with the line, “If you gladly chose surrender, so will I. If you gave your life to love them, so will I.” And I broke. Tears flowed forth. Surrender. What a place of vulnerability. Letting go, ceasing to push, releasing the illusion of control. Navigating life, embracing the opportunity to do the next right thing, which might not be “more of the same.”
Two days later, on Easter Sunday, I spent some time reading about the Paschal Triduum (the period of time from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday), which is also referred to as Triduum Sacrum. In a great moment of irony, my eyes fell back on those words, Triduum Sacrum. Sacrum! Could this be connected to the sacrum bone that was healing in my own body? A quick Google search helped me learn that the sacrum part of the Latin Triduum Sacrum, indeed referenced the bone, and it was known as the “holy bone” because the sacrum was, in ancient times, the part of the animal surrendered in sacrifice! Some even believed it was where a person's soul resides. Further reading revealed that the Greek word for the sacrum literally meant “strong bone.” Indeed there was a history of strength and surrender tied to that bone.
Sometimes we encounter problems that we experience as very frustrating and inconvenient, and yet sometimes I wonder if these problems actually have a place in our lives. Through the whole process of injury and recovery, I learned that sometimes discipline and strength are needed to push harder doing more of the same, but sometimes that same discipline and strength is needed for surrender. Strength and surrender seem paradoxical, but they work together. It takes great strength and temperance to surrender. And yet there are times in which it is only through the surrender we can emerge stronger. And maybe, just maybe, it is in the temperance and paradox that one might run well and truly thrive.
In his Best Lent Ever series, Matthew Kelly encourages the idea, “Don’t give up chocolate for Lent.” Kelly is suggesting here that, while the sacrifice involved in fasting treats and sugar can provide space for refocusing our lives, perhaps Lent gives us an even bigger opportunity to examine the greatest challenges facing our soul. In other words, soul maturation can require growth at a deeper level. To offer an example of this dynamic, the author invites to imagine someone who is shot in the hand and the heart but enters the emergency room seeking only surgery on the hand.
So how do we identify these substantial opportunities for progress in our lives? How do we determine our most important avenues for growth? What are the deeper issues of our heart that are just waiting for healing? Perhaps we encounter the answer when we pay close attention to the little ordinary moments in our daily existence.
On the first Saturday of Lent, I had an amazing opportunity to attend a Companioning Conference at a local church where the theme centered around journeying well with others. The one-day event featured a variety of breakout sessions, some led by close friends of mine, and I was so excited for the opportunity to simply show up, sit back, and absorb their wisdom. After the welcome and opening speaker, we were invited to navigate our way to our first break out session, and I found mine to be down the church hallway. A dear friend, Katie, was leading my first breakout session although I did not find her in the room on my arrival. Grabbing a seat near the door I soon heard Katie’s voice down the hall. She seemed to be in conversation with another woman, although the woman’s voice was somewhat loud and difficult to understand. Glancing up from the session handout I watched Katie slowly enter the room guiding her friend toward the seating. It was in this moment I realized that the other woman’s slow movements, slurred speech, and motor skill impairment were most likely symptoms of cerebral palsy.
Through what seemed like an eternity, I watched the slow, deliberate physical effort required by Katie to guide her friend by the arm. Knowing that I was sitting close to the door, and there was an open chair right next to me, I knew what was coming. At that moment, I became aware that Katie would invite her friend to occupy the seat to my right and I felt my initial response was one of hesitation. This dynamic could demand that I put in a lot of work. This encounter could be uncomfortable. This seating arrangement could require something more of me when I simply desired to sit back and listen on this Saturday morning. On the surface, I did not skip a beat in welcoming the woman as Katie made the introductions, but I knew the reluctance in my heart having intuited the energy that would be required of me. “Hi...there...I’m...Lyla,” the woman offered. We navigated the formalities and then sat back to hear the presentation.
Throughout Katie’s talk, I found myself not only working diligently to help Lyla see the handouts but also inviting her into the “talk at your table among yourselves” moments. Engaging her in the conversation involved providing space for her to complete her sentences and then straining a bit to understand her contributions so that I could engage her with more than a blank stare. No doubt it required a great deal of effort on my part.
As our session ended, I noticed Katie had to leave the room and so I found myself there with Lyla and not really sure how she was going to stand up and make it to her next breakout session. Although I was slightly self-conscious of saying, or doing, the wrong thing in my offer of assistance to Lyla, I found relief when she accepted my invitation to help her stand and make her way forward. Lyla gave me slow, but helpful, verbal guidance, “grab...my...arm…”, but also infused our conversation with great humor! “Shall...we...dance?” was her first line to me as we gradually moved toward the door.
In his book Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus suggests that we all encounter these divine moments or opportunities in which we can look to the right and seize the moment, or look to the left and pretend we saw nothing at all. In one chapter, McManus offers an example of witnessing an opportunity to help someone and, in a split second, we decide whether we will look to the right and dive right in, or look to the left and ignore what we saw. McManus proposes that seizing these divine moments requires something from us. Diving in requires initiative, courage, and sometimes even a level of risk but he encourages us to “look right” and seize these opportunities as they become evident because they provide fertile ground for growth.
As I reflected on divine opportunities to look left or right, I realize that choosing to stay back and help Lyla was precisely a space in which I found myself at this “left/right” crossroad. As everyone stood to leave Katie’s session, my internal dialogue was hopeful that someone else was coming to help Lyla so that I could get on with my day. At this moment, I wish I could say that I was eager to be the first person to courageously jump in and walk alongside Lyla, but the truth is that I was actually just waiting around for someone else to take the lead and I waited so long that everyone else had left the room. I “looked right”, and made the decision to assist her, primarily out of awareness that I was the only one there to do so.
Through the day I found my path crossing Lyla’s extensively. I helped her navigate the lunch line, helped her wash hands in the restroom, helped gather and schlep her belongings from one room to the next, and of course, found us sitting at the same lunch table. Did my interactions with Lyla require me to continually take initiative and maintain stamina in doing so? Oh yes. But a funny thing started to happen as we “danced” together. Over the course of the day, I started to really “see” Lyla. Although her speech was slow, her wit was lightning quick and I found us both laughing so much together over her hysterical one-liners. Through these interactions with Lyla, I saw not only her spunk but also her soul. I saw her resilience. I saw her light. I saw her emotional and spiritual fortitude. Through the events of the day I realized that, while I may have been physically stronger than Lyla, Lyla brought a spiritual and emotional strength far superior to mine. While I originally thought I was walking alongside her, helping her, and giving to her, I found that she was actually walking alongside and giving to me. I was actually the recipient.
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I was reminded of the beautiful words of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
When we read this prayer and reflect on it conceptually, we can experience it as such a pure, beautiful inspiration to guide our lives. Yet as we meditate on those divine moments in our lives when we can “look left” or “look right” we gradually come to realize that taking the initiative needed to act courageously and give of ourselves, can require a lot of work. Seeking “to understand” can be really hard when listening to someone, for example, with cerebral palsy, where the words are slow, loud, and sometimes unclear. The opportunity for “giving” can arrive at a time that does not feel convenient in our schedule for the day. And yet, I believe it is in precisely in these brief, challenging, inconvenient, and sometimes messy moments, in which we gain awareness of where we can benefit from “surgery on the heart” instead of merely “surgery on the hand”.
Reflecting on the events of the Companioning Conference, I remember many session highlights. But even more, I remember the way that Lyla shined her light while walking alongside me. Thank you, Lyla, for the invitation to dance!
Note: Lyla has given permission for her name and this story to appear on this blog. Thank you, Lyla! For those who would like to know a bit more about Lyla, she has a blog at: morethanlegs.wordpress.com/ and a book: It Takes More Than Legs to Stand available on Amazon.
I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer for about two years. For me, these practices include centering prayer, Lectio Divina, breath prayer, walking meditation, collage prayer, yoga, and the labyrinth. I have participated in spiritual formation groups and visit a spiritual director monthly. I’ve seen small bits of transformation in myself during this time as I gaze upon God and allow God to gaze upon me. These practices build depth, beauty, and enrich my spiritual life in ways that are difficult to translate into mere words.
In a spiritual formation group recently, we shared what the theme “take up your cross,” from Luke 9:18-27 meant to each of us. As Christians, we sometimes struggle with this concept, because we believe and somehow have been taught that these verses mean to deny ourselves of ourself, to deny our feelings, our desires, to always give or acquiesce our wishes for others. Over time, this can create anger and resentment, because deep down we know this is not truth.
I had operated this way for many years. I was “playing” a person, a role of what I thought I was supposed to be in order to be “Christian”, especially a “good Christian”. It even entered into what I perceived to be my role as a “Christian mother.” I did not understand then, that taking up my cross with that type of lens, meant giving up my True-Self, in other words, the person God made me to be. Outward behavior was priority, while the heart was ignored or buried. Upon sharing in my spiritual formation group, I acknowledged this struggle as part of my own. Then I began to share how I now understood the following verses.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”
I had written my thoughts down when doing the study earlier in the week. I remember smiling to myself and feeling grateful for new insights, as I had read these verses hundreds of times before, but with my behavioral lens rather than God’s loving “you are enough” lens.
I now understood, when I try to “save my life”, I am working from a behavior focused lens, striving, achieving, not even aware of myself. For example, I tried to be a what I thought was the perfect parent or wife while ignoring the deep beauty of my inner self, the part of me connected to God simply because I am made in God's image. This is how I lose my life, how I lose my True Self. I am unaware of who I am, unaware of God. But if I let go, trust God, experience God, and “just be”, I will save my life, because of God’s immeasurable love.
It’s counter intuitive, especially for our American culture. The verse goes on to with “what good is it to gain the whole world” which is also about striving for and achieving our identity. This could be really anything that is shaped by how we want to be perceived by others; such as wealth, fame, success. This striving can even be the desire to be perceived as a “believer” or “strong” Christian. This gaining of the whole world represents building our ego-self and thus our False-Self. In the process, we lose our very selves and become divided or not whole.
What I love most about spiritual formation groups is the transformation and intimacy with God and each other that happens in our moments together. We find ourselves in a safe and sacred space, which allows us to be open and vulnerable. New depth and dimensions are discovered together. As we share with one another, our bond grows, our lens of God becomes a little clearer, and we experience God's gentle love as individuals and collectively. It’s beautiful to experience and behold.
My contemplative practices help me to learn to let go, to truly experience God, to be more self-aware and God-aware. By allowing spaciousness in my life, I’m free to open up to God in a way I never have before and God graciously, gently, and lovingly enters in.
So I've come to understand that picking up my cross is more about letting go rather than striving. After all, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” Matthew 11:30
My family and I were on vacation together in Sisters, Oregon. Of course, with three small boys and nine people all together, the noise level in our rental house was pretty high. Being the introvert that I am, I decided to go for a walk. The air was crisp, clear, sunny. It was a stunning snowscape around me. The pine trees plastered with snow. Snow piled four feet high on roofs and the side of the road. When I got back to the house I saw the porch chair that had been inviting me to stop and linger. Since I was fully clothed for the cold I grabbed a wool blanket from inside and accepted God’s invitation to be, to linger, to absorb the beauty around me.
Being quiet and connecting with nature has always been a place of knowing God for me. So, I sat back in the chair, cozy in my warm cocoon. Gradually, I became aware of the symphony around me. The sun was shining and, even though it was still below freezing, the snow on the trees was beginning to fall due to the sun’s heat. It did not fall in clumps but shimmered down like crystal rain. The sun hitting the falling tree avalanche became a shower of teeny diamonds. First I would hear the snow beginning to release from the tree. Then I turned to see the glimmering show. Next, I’d hear another release to my right followed by the shimmering rain. Oh, another right in front of me. Ooh, there is one far off to my left. I found myself in nature’s concert hall listening and experiencing a one-of-a-kind symphony.
I sat and absorbed this mesmerizing display of God’s creation for quite some time. Then a thought struck me. What if me sitting, watching this show, being fully taken by it was actually making this display of nature even more glorious. Could it be by me being the audience I became part of the delight God was creating?
I believe God created all of creation. His image is in the trees, the snow, the sunshine and in me. God told me by accepting the invitation to enjoy the symphony of snow falling from the trees that day the symphony became even more glorious. How can that be? I was just a clump of humanness sitting in a chair observing the glory around me. I don’t know the answer, but I know this experience with God’s creation fully captured me. I carry the images and sounds with me. I share them with others and I see their hearts well up with joy from the picture formed in their own minds. Maybe they have experienced something similar. Maybe they have heard the call to stop and be a part of God’s creation.
There are other lessons I heard God speak while I watched the snow fall, like patience and letting God work in his own time. But, the most important lesson is knowing I must listen for the invitations from God to stop, be still, listen, be with and in nature. Hear and see God’s display of delight. I would not have experienced what I did had I not paused to absorb what was already happening all around me. What might capture my attention today? What delight does God have to share with me this day? Lord, help me slow myself enough to hear your gentle and persistent invitations to be at home with you.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!