By Jenna Thompson
I am currently recovering from a surgery that will require three to six weeks of recovery.
Six weeks is a long time!
A brain like mine should not be allowed six minutes of reflection much less six weeks. So, instead of second-guessing and ruminating over every life choice I have ever made, or scrolling through Netflix for the thousandth time only to settle on … nothing, I have decided to channel my energy into reflection and put my keyboard to work. Here are four lessons I have learned so far:
- Eleven-year-old, youngest children are very capable of making a superb batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Now, I realize that this is kind of a no-brainer, but before you judge me too harshly, it is important to explain that said eleven-year-old is the youngest of six children … by a lot. And she’s an easy-going kid. And she has spent her life being dragged around from one older-sibling’s life-event to the next. So, in the midst of life’s craziness, it’s amazing (and somewhat embarrassing to admit) how little thought has been given to slowing down to teach an eleven-year-old how to make some cookies. Or clean a toilet. Or mop a floor. Because, let’s face it, there’s an older sister who already knows how and it is just plain easier to give the task to them. The (not-so) surprising result of this is that you end up with an eleven-year-old who would much rather play Wii than clean a bathroom.
So, when mom is forced to sit for an hour or two (or 1,008!), these things come in to a little sharper focus. And the humbling gaps present themselves a little more clearly than when everything swirls at a break-neck pace. And for this brief window of time, there is an opportunity to fill them in. At least a little bit. And the proud face of a child who is sharing her cookies with her family, her neighbors and anyone else whose foot happens to cross the threshold reveals what a gift it is to learn to love and serve your neighbor when you are young and the gift flows from a simple, gracious and hospitable heart. And as reticence gives way to confidence, the little girl dips her toe into the waters of young-womanhood and discovers that the water is fine.
2. Where the rubber hits the road … aka for better or worse.
Most of us blessed with a good marriage know, instinctively, that our husbands would lay down their lives for us if called upon to do so. But in the nitty-gritty, back-breaking, mind-boggling busyness of day to day living, I think we are less convinced that they would set aside their schedules, demands and leisure time if the situation demanded it. Or maybe we just don’t think to ask.
But convalescence is clarifying. It gives our spouse the opportunity to step in and serve in a way not required of them when we are in relatively good health. Or it gives us the opportunity to appreciate our spouse for doing so. And to say thank you not just to our husband but to a merciful God who gives us the companionship and sympathy of another person who loves us enough to carry our burden. And walk the halls of a hospital at a snail’s pace. And run a vacuum cleaner. And scold us for doing too much too soon. But for better or worse, in sickness and in health is hypothetical until it is tested. And the testing produces strength and inspires greater trust and more confidence. Romance is fine. But real love is revealed in the trenches.
- We are more than what we give
It is easy to begin to see ourselves as wives and mothers in a very utilitarian way. Even when we have a good and clear understanding of our roles in light of our vocations, the temptation is to measure our worth in terms of what we produce or offer on a day to day basis. Being sidelined to a pull-out couch in the middle of the living room while everyone else scurries about doing the cooking, cleaning, laundry and home maintenance can make an otherwise busy and active participant in the family feel pretty useless and burdensome. A common refrain in our house right now is “Mom! Let us do it!” And we aren’t talking about cleaning the carpets or tackling the grout here, people. We’re talking, I get scolded when I try to carry my own dish to the sink! Although, this may stem more from a power-trip on the part of my children than anything else. It’s kind of fun to have permission to boss mom around, for a change.
But the truth is, they are protecting me and sheltering me — from myself — because they love me. And they want me to be well. They are living out all of the lessons I have been drilling into them for all of these years about placing the needs of others before your own and being quick to help and working hard. I don’t want to let them, because that’s my job! Except it’s not. It’s the job of the Christian. And, by the grace of God, I will be off the couch soon enough and life will return to normal and our jobs and duties will resume in their usual pattern. But, for now, we are all given the privilege of walking a few steps in each other’s shoes. And that can’t help but create empathy and understanding and stronger character.
I am more to my family than a domestic manager. We are a group of people brought together by God’s design and perfect will. And my vocation as a wife and mother gives me the opportunity to love and serve this busy bunch and keep things humming along as best I can. But my value does not rest in what I produce for them. The value of each member of my family, and yours, rests solely and fully and squarely in who we are as God’s own baptized and beloved children. To know this is to live in a state of rest! Either on the couch, or with backside firmly planted on the front seat of the mini-van for the day’s fourth drop-off or pick-up, or kneeling at the communion rail receiving His good and perfect gifts or any life-event in between. We are called. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are His. That is the only purpose we need.
- Patience is a virtue … one that I don’t possess.
I regularly preach patience.
“When will dinner be ready?” Be patient.
“When can I go to my friend’s house?” Be patient.
“When will I finally graduate and get out of the house and get ON with my life?” Oh, dear heart, please be patient.
And, my personal favorite since having moved 18 hours from most of our relations, “When will we get there???” Be. PATIENT!!!
But we’re not. I’m not. We are, by nature, restless people. We want to move forward. We want the next thing to happen … right now. Waiting for it is hard. Whether we are waiting on physical recovery or emotional recovery or both, we want a quick fix.
But the quick fix is rarely the lasting one and rushing headlong ahead for it can only land us in a worse state than the one we started in. There are lessons to be harvested from being still and waiting. The faithfulness of a Father who hears our groaning and sighs and, though He may not be quick to answer, leaves us more mature and steady and trusting than before. When we try to get ahead of that, we lose the lesson.
Healing physically requires time and lots of patience. Our bodies can only handle so much before they send up red-flags that demand our attention. And while we can pop pain pills that temporarily soothe the ache, invariably there is only so much our bodies can handle and, eventually, we will be forced to rest. This is instructive for the emotional pains in life as well and it is worth paying attention to. We can self-medicate to soothe ourselves with all kinds of distractions. Drugs. Alcohol. Friends. Our children. Food. Facebook. Pick your poison. There are thousands of things in our day and age that can draw our eye and mind away from whatever pain it is we are trying to escape. And it works. Sometimes. For a little while. But while we can put up a pretty good front for the rest of the world, we know deep down that the throbbing pain comes back. With a vengeance. And it will not be ignored. The raw nerve is exposed and there’s no escaping it.
And the reality may be that there is no escaping it. Some things heal; it’s true. But some things don’t. Some pain persists and we have to carry it with us until we draw our last breath. Chronic pain, of either the physical or emotional kind, is truly a thorn in the flesh for many. And for the love of all that is good, can we just be honest enough to admit that it is true for all of us? Whatever our current situation in life — good health or poor; on-top-of-the-world happy or at-the-bottom-of-the-pit depression — we are all in chronic pain. Or we should be. If we’re not, then we aren’t being real. We are plagued with sin. And it sticks to us like super glue. And while we get moments of reprieve, sheer Grace from a loving Father, there is no pill we can pop that will give us any lasting release from its presence or its effects.
So what do we do? We have patience. We endure. We persevere. Because there is a remedy; an everlasting Cure that promises an end to the pain and the writhing and the wrestling. The prescription has been filled and we are already healed of what truly ails us. The symptoms will persist. And at times they may seem unbearable. But The Great Physician has healed us and gives us the strength we need to survive. And thrive. And lend strength to our fellow sufferers. With each new trial our hearts become a little braver and our backs become a little stronger as we shed our pride and trust in the One whose strong arms carry us onward toward home.
It is good to be still.
At least for a little while. Sometimes stillness is forced upon us and sometimes we have to grasp at it in the little snatches we are allowed throughout the day. In the stillness we can find unshakable peace in the knowledge that all the healing we need we already have in Christ. It is finished and it is sufficient. And the messy bits and broken places that remained unhealed? We entrust those to Him and take Him at His word that He is working for our good in the midst of them.