Coffee in hand I gingerly lowered myself down on the couch and covered up with a blanket. The sun had just come up but I’d been awake for five hours already lying flat as a pancake. The pain radiating through my back couldn’t be silenced.
My sweetie asked, “Are you okay.”
“What do you think is wrong?”
“It feels like someone hit me in the back with a sledgehammer.”
“Have you tried stretching?”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe you need to call the doctor. You’ve had so much medical stuff this week it might be your kidneys.”
This thought sent the pain racing to my brain. My chin sunk to my chest and I said, “I wish I were a dog so you could just put me down. I’m pathetic. My body’s falling apart.” He shot me a look that said I’m not having that conversation with you. I wrapped my blanket tighter staring into my mug ashamed.
At the heart-level I meant what I said, but intellectually I knew it was all wrong. Several weeks of medical fatigue had got the better of me. With a little over 50,000 miles on this body some things need attention and the thought of one more “problem” was too much.
As it turns out my kidneys were fine but a muscle in my back was not happy. When the doctor asked me if I’d been doing anything out of the ordinary I said, “Yeah sitting around icing my jaw after oral surgery.”
“Wow I can see the bruise now. Looks like you took a left hook to the face.”
“It feels that way,” I said.
“I want you to get a heating pad for your back while you ice the jaw and get a massage first thing tomorrow.”
By this time it was clear my death wish response was disproportionate to my circumstances. I was relieved my sweetie hadn’t engaged me in that conversation.
A few days later when I made a long overdue visit to the orthopedist, I promised myself I wouldn’t fall apart mentally again. The orthopedist is a friend and I didn’t want him to see me lose it.
The exam wasn’t fun. He put my shoulder through the paces looking for where it hurt. After twisting it around he was a little taken aback. “You’re strong,” he said. “Stronger than I would expect with this kind of injury.”
“Yeah, you have great strength with pain. That’s unusual.”
As he said it I closed my eyes and the back of my eyelids lit up. It was like a light bulb going off—strength with pain. It felt like God had spoken. I laughed and said, “I think that’s a metaphor for my life.”
“It’s a good one,” he said.
I left with an order for an MRI and his initial diagnosis. Walking to my car a brand new dime on the scorching blacktop caught my eye. As I reached to pick it up I heard God whisper, I want you to remember that—strength with pain.
Driving home I kept mulling this thought over. How is it days before I didn’t feel very strong when my back was killing me? How is it that when my shoulder screams I feel defeated? If I’m so strong physically why emotionally am I easily frazzled?
When I got home and put the dime in my penny cup I looked at the pile of change and the answer came to me. Physical strength is something you can control like the station your radio is playing. Emotional strength is like the music in the grocery store—songs play you don’t always like. Add pain of any kind and you’ve got a station with static.
For me it’s crazy-making! On the one-hand I know I’m in great shape and yet on the other I think I’m falling apart. Why is my subconscious lagging behind? If I’m honest, it’s because I’ve lost confidence in myself. I’ve bought into the lie that I can’t handle one more thing and that’s just not true—I can. I have before and will again.
I realized my doctor’s comment about strength with pain wasn’t an observation it was an affirmation. God reminding me that I can do all things through Him, including live in this body of mine. Its aging and I do have some issues that need managing but like the tee-shirt says, “I’m killin’ it”—it’s not killing me.
When God speaks I need to listen and I’m thankful He chose my doctor-friend to remind me which channel to tune-in and which to tune-out. It’s our nature to listen to pain and believe what it’s telling us. But pain is a song that offers no hope and does nothing but erode our confidence. God’s voice says you got this. For every inadequacy and weakness in your life I have a strength and sufficiency to match it. You can believe in me or you can believe me—the choice is yours.