Note: This was first published in the Spring of 2017. Much has changed. I have more reason than ever to maintain my well-being. My solitary self is now in a shared union with another. What God has joined together is our job to care for.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)
As a competitive athlete, I diligently trained my body and “played through the pain,” dismissing wounds I still face. As a student, I fiercely focused my mind on questions and concepts that helped me better understand who I am, but fell short of understanding how I fit in the world. As a pastor, I offered my best (and sometimes more) to meet people’s needs, and became so obsessed with this, I ignored my own.
Now, 54, launching new vocational paths, I am eager to do so in a healthy manner. The key is not going to be grueling exercise that ignores the needs of my body. Not isolated intellectual pursuits that further remove me from the company of friends and family. Not self-less service that burns out the best of who God has created me to be. None of these things. So what, then?
Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation. (“The Body and the Earth”) ― Wendell Berry,
It has often been my excessive obsession to exclude myself from others when I am not taking care of myself. I want to hide what I am doing, or not doing, to my detriment. Why? I’m afraid someone will take pity on me or care for me more than I feel I deserve.
How do I step out of this self-imposed isolation? One of the best places I go is to my Faithful Friends mental health support group. This assures me that at least once a week, I come out of hiding to reveal my thoughts and my feelings, my hopes and my fears, my tears and my laughter. Sharing in a circle with other strugglers helps me not take myself too lightly or too seriously. I am one among many God cares for. God wants me as much as anyone to care for myself.
“I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” ― Søren Kierkegaard
Before I was in an auto accident (12/1/2016), I was walking an average of 4 miles a day. I had several paths in my neighborhood and, given my bipolar schedule, would meet everyone from early morning dog walkers to late-night snow removers. I would snap photos of what marked my corner of the world as distinct. Such walks were a great blessing for my body, and a breath of fresh air for my soul.
Now walking a mile is an almost insurmountable feat. A sharp pain in my lower back deposits itself in my left hip and shoots down my leg, causing numbness that makes it difficult for me to simply step forward.
But I’m not giving up. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor and am starting to note a small measure of relief. I purchased some orthopedic inserts to help my gait. I then bought some quality running shoes and have been wearing them every waking hour to the delight of my feet, my legs, my back, my whole body. My next step will be to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist who will help me maintain a better balance in my eating plan to relieve some of the pain caused by excessive weight.
When I was walking, and what I hope to reclaim as I return to walking, is a sort of mind-wandering where I let go of the day’s obsessions with each step. Through my earbuds, John Prine or Natalie Merchant or R.E.M. accompany me on a journey to God only knows where. Often when I walk, I get new ideas for stories, new ways to build a relationship, new hope for myself as a beloved creature in God’s bountiful Creation.
If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. ― Albert Einstein
Just as King Saul’s spirit was soothed when David played his harp, mine is when I tune into Spotify. I count my $9.99 monthly fee to be one of the best investments I’ve made toward my overall well-being. Music wakes me up. Music sets the tone for my day. Music relaxes my mind as I wind down from the day. Music even cultivates a cocoon of comfort as I sleep. Without music, my disordered mind is disturbed in destructive ways. I become soul-sick, longing for aesthetic relief.
Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. ― Norman Cousins,
Faithful friends. Invigorating walks. Inspiring music. These are three things the doctor inside of me prescribes.
How about you? What things can you do to care for the self God cares for?