What’s your idea of a good walk? One that takes you through your neighborhood, visiting with friends along the way? A rapid-paced, perspiration-inducing bit of exercise around a track? A great accomplishment on a “bad day”: less pain from chair to sofa? Or, is it something else, entirely?
When I was first diagnosed with lupus, I had to give up playing tennis because it was too hard on my very painful joints. My rheumatologist told me to walk, instead. I’ve always liked to walk, so I followed his advise and was able to keep moving. Slowly and sometimes not very much. But I moved.
Since those early, painful days, I’ve applied the concept of “walking” to other things in my life. So often, in our times before a catastrophic diagnosis, we’re used to multi-tasking, hurrying through our schedule, doing things for others from sun up to sundown. “After,” sometimes we have to learn to walk…all over again.
In this sense, “walking” means slowing down. Not piling too many things into one day. Not doing things that will hurt us, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It might mean, on those very bad days, observing the world instead of engaging in it. It might mean putting aside the very long prayer list and just sitting quietly with God, slowly opening up to the stillness and the whisper of the Holy Spirit that can fill the silence.
A good walk for us might not have anything to do with motion, but everything to do with emotion. We savor moments with a good friend or alone. We balance frustration with gratitude, disappointment with patience.
Since I’ve re-imagined what a good walk really is, I find that I can relax more. Enjoy smaller things more. Have more time for simple joy, calm, quiet, and fellowship. And on those pain-ridden or flare-filled days, when fatigue is truly heavy, I can turn my mind to the many good walks I have had, remember, praise God, and be comforted.
I have a simple, silver and pearl ring that I like to wear. But for several weeks, I couldn’t find it. I looked and looked, and thought and thought about where I’d last worn it, but no amount of looking and thinking helped. The ring remained lost.
As I moved along, the lost ring took up some of my thoughts, but gradually receded to a distant memory. Although I’d worn it many times before, now that I didn’t have it, I almost completely forgot about it. And then, one day, I opened a drawer and there it was, sitting on top of the drawer’s contents as if waiting for me to find it.
I slipped it onto my finger and felt a subtle sense of comfort at the familiar feeling. And as I moved through my day, the thoughts of searching and not finding turned to gratitude at finding what was lost.
Living with chronic illness and pain is much the same thing. Our lives “before” have their share of favorite activities, people, and comforts that we often lose when health challenges rise up and our time is consumed with many other not-so-pleasant things. We don’t completely forget “before.” In fact, sometimes, we might obsess over what we’ve lost. Or, we might become frustrated when we try but fail to recoup the days prior to our diagnosis or accident. We might be so intent on finding what’s lost that we forget that we are now invited to move into a new phase of life, a time “after” that will have its own blessings, comforts (and, yes, challenges), and moments of joy.
We might not be able to find exactly what’s lost in our now-health-challenged lives. But we can re-form, re-imagine those activities into which we poured our hearts and talents. We can find new ways of bringing comfort and encouragement to ourselves and others. We can let go of the past in order to open that drawer and find that God is gifting us all over again with wonderful things that are true presents in our present.
Finding what’s lost takes time. Patience. Prayer. Trust. But, we can. And believing in God’s bounteous will for each of us is the beginning of it all.
Sometimes when we are at a low point, or we have experienced unfeeling, unthinking hurt from someone who doesn’t understand the pain or chronic illness we struggle with, we might wish that someone could speak up for us, defend us, or present our “cause” to the world and thus make the way smoother for future encounters.
It can be helpful for someone “high profile” to take up one or another cause, whether it’s a specific disease or a way to prevent ill health or a particular health condition. Such “stars” have what I call “attention clout,” that is they turn eyes and ears to them and can reach their fans with a potentially helpful message.
But another way of looking at the spokesperson issue is to turn inward, to ourselves. After all, we who live with these particular health challenges know better than those who don’t just what it is that makes life more problematic and complex. Yes, inside each of us is our own spokesperson!
I’m not suggesting that we carry around a portable soapbox and declare our condition to the world. But I do think that each day God presents us with opportunities to give others a glimpse of our lives and heart, and help them make better choices when it comes to navigating the world. For example, we can express gratitude to someone who holds a door open for us, or pauses the elevator just long enough for us to slip inside. We can smile, even if we don’t feel like it, and share a bit of light, showing others that even with pain, we embrace the precious lives God has given to us.
When we’re challenged by others, we can take a deep breath (or maybe two, if we need it), say a prayer for wisdom, and engage the person in a bit of conversation. It might not take much coaxing to turn what seems to be a heart of stone to one more receptive to understanding.
In my book Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain & Illness, I talk about one such incident. I was in more pain than usual, but had to retrieve my computer from the repair shop. When I asked the shop worker to help me with the CPU, to carry it to my car that was parked in a handicapped space, the worker refused and said, instead, that I didn’t “belong” in that space. I wasn’t in a wheelchair, and so I should not be parking in a space exclusively for wheelchair-bound people.
I asked for the manager, who was much more understanding. And as he carried my CPU to the car, I suggested he might educate his employees on the broader spectrum of disabilities. So many of us do not “look” disabled, but looks don’t tell the whole picture. In fact, I and many others I know take extra pains to “look” much better than we’re actually feeling inside!
The kind(er) manager said he would talk to his workers. I hope others in the future were met with more across-the-board compassion!
This is but one story, but it illustrates how much we can do for ourselves and others in like-situations. And as we embrace the role of Spokesperson, we can also feel that we are useful witnesses – part of God’s wonderful plan! Not hopeless, but hope-filled!
Many years ago, when I lived near our Nation’s capital, I had emerged from a polling place on Election Day and a busload of foreign journalists piled out of it. They were covering the current Presidential election, a heated race (as many have been and are). A few of the reporters circled around me and one of them, in halting English, said, “Did…you…just…vote?”
“Yes,” I replied.
More reporters circled around.
“Who did you vote for?” Another reporter asked me.
“I’m not going to say,” I answered.
“No?” A few said, seeming to look startled. “Why not?”
Now, a television crew had arrived and pointed their camera my way! I couldn’t imagine what far-off television program might end up with the footage, but looked upon the whole scene as an opportunity.
“This is the United States of America,” I said patiently. “We don’t have to say who we will vote for, nor who we have voted for. Our vote is private and entirely our own.”
“Oh. Oh.” The first reporter nodded, but still looked puzzled. “What do you think of this kind of system?”
I smiled. “I love it. I absolutely love it.”
The reporters seemed satisfied with this, and in a blink, they and the camera crew moved on to another voter.
I think of this now that I’ve lived with the stresses of multiple chronic illnesses, the ups and downs of a personal life that needs calm but sometimes gets more upheaval due to illness than is healthy. Through many election cycles, now, I’ve tried to avoid the added stresses that come with engaging attention on external conflict – and campaign seasons bring more than their share of this! So, I’ve stuck to my response, as broadcast somewhere long ago – I will vote, but I don’t have to say for whom. Not before, and not after. And I don’t have to get swept up in the heightened drama, angst, or conflict that’s swirling about in the news and elsewhere up to and through November. Simply, I prefer to preserve my inner calm, protect my stress-sensitive health, and fill my mind and heart with good things, Godly things, and thus not backslide because of external pressures.
There are good friends with whom I discuss the current state of “the race for the White House” and other political concerns. But more important to me is that everyone know where I stand on faith, Jesus, Scripture, and the importance of prayer and church. This is the aim, after all, of a life focused on God. And believe me, it makes for much less stress and much more grace!