This is the first reflection offered in our advent series on our experiences of incarnation. To submit a piece for consideration please email Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org and see the guidelines here.
Back in May, when my job involved being surrounded by little ones who were not my own, I hurt my neck. I assumed I slept on it wrong and pinched a nerve, but the sports med doctor I saw two months later assured me that, no, pain like I had doesn’t come about by sleeping, but by moving. It’s in the resting for hours later that my body had time and space to register the pain. And with that comment, a journey began in which God spoke clearly and distinctly to me, through me. Or rather through my body.
I started physical therapy a little nervous. I am in no way, and have never been (even when I played softball that one year in high school just because my sister did) athletic. I was feeling guilty and ashamed and sure the therapist would blame me for the pain I was in, due to my lack of caring for myself. I waited with trepidation until she called me back and we began. And she, well, she was amazing. She spoke words of life and encouragement and I knew, I just knew, that this was something way beyond becoming pain-free. This was something sacred.
“Don’t invalidate your pain. Don’t brush it off or think it isn’t a big deal. Don’t dismiss it by comparing it to others whose pain is worse.”
Yep. First session and she had me pegged as she spoke those words to me. A month later when the pain flared up again as I did some work in my son’s classroom, she reminded me that
“With movement, comes pain, and life involves movement.”
Life. Movement. Pain. There was something there and I needed to listen. I needed to start listening to my pain. It was telling me something, telling me that I was alive and that as one alive, there was pain. Pain that I was trying hard to brush away, to fix, to get rid off as fast as I possibly could. Deep emotional pain that was forcing itself on my body, determined to be heard.
I was thinking this morning of how I feel things so intensely in my body. How emotions move through me with power and force. When I am afraid, I am gut-wrenchingly sick-to-my-stomach afraid. When I am sad, each ragged breath is almost too much to bear. When someone I love is hurting, my heart literally aches for them. When my children valiantly walk their way through hurtful situations, I feel it deep in me. Pain is a felt thing for me.
I am learning that healing needs to be a felt thing for me. Many a day I’ve sat at my piano crying out to God with every movement of my fingers, feeling the release as they move along the keys. Too few mornings, I follow my PT regiment with purpose, feeling the release as each muscle pulls and relaxes. In quiet moments before the after-school rush, I breath deep, full breaths, feeling the release as my heartbeat slows and space for God to move opens up.
Having this body that moves and feels pain and breathes life, I am speechless when I remember
“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
I close my eyes and try to fathom this Man feeling pain in His flesh. This Man walking, touching, laughing, crying, sleeping. This Man breathing life, one ragged breath after another. I think of how His Spirit moved through His body with passion, and at times with anguish, as the NIV says. I think of Him taking into Himself the pain of the world and really living that pain. Feeling that pain.
To live advent, to know Christmas, for me this year, is to let the Spirit have free reign in my body. I don’t know what God is birthing in me but I know that the same Spirit who hovered over Mary is doing something. When each step forward feels wrought with anxiety… when my soul burns within me… when my heart is stretched and pulled, I think of my therapist gently cradling my head in her arms, enfolding me with care, twisting and turning, not to inflict more pain, but to bring release, and I remember to surrender to the movement. I walked out of physical therapy pain-free but with the knowledge that staying pain-free was a precarious thing dependent in great part on listening to my body, leaning into what it is saying, and letting myself be fully alive in it.
Kate Green is a Jesus follower, mom, friend and neighbor who enjoys contemplative prayer, Coldplay, and the Detroit Tigers. She cares deeply about lgbtq inclusion and autism acceptance, and really can’t live without a constant supply of grace and coffee. You can follow her on Twitter @cgmama.