Permission of Pain

The Olympics came to a close yesterday. Both in preparation and during the competition, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and yes, pain. Pain is unavoidable for those committed to training for most sports. To increase endurance, an athlete has to push past the breaking point. Blisters form, pop and tear on a gymnast’s hands. Every mountain biker tumbles through the rock garden once or twice. The hurdler sprawls face first, injuring pride and ankle.

These are expected pains. Growing pains. They gain glory through survival and triumph over the pain.

Pain is weakness leaving the body.

No pain no gain – athletic mantras

I want to twist this truth just a little bit. I want to look at the permission of pain. 

I am not saying that an Olympian or any athlete looks forward to the tearing, telling pain of a pulled muscle or broken bone or any other debilitating injury. No one does. But sometimes it brings relief. What if one of the reasons God gave us pain was so that our overly-zealous, compulsive minds would receive the permission to rest.

I have been studying rest with a wonderful website: www.shelovesmagazine.com . That’s their theme for August and it has proved to be a nagging growing pain in my own heart. You see, I hate to rest. I was raised and programed to perform and produce. Product is posterity. When God informed me through His word that He rested and he designed me, a mortal, to require and to take rest, I nodded, “What a good idea, God. When I’m done here.”

What if God is allowing us to be taught something. What if He is waiting for us to trip over a hurdle or slip from the bars because of our stubborn blisters. What if He is standing right there to pick us up, walk to the sidelines and say, “Rest. Just sit down with me. I will hold you, comfort you, encourage you. When you do go back to the race, you will run stronger, jump higher, flip faster than ever before.”

It’s actually true in athletics too. Following a day or a week of rest, or an entire off season, an athlete often comes back stronger. They have been refreshed.

Sometimes it takes pain for us to hear the already God-given permission to rest.

 

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Producing Rest

Produce. The proof of value, the proof of contribution, the proof of validity, the essence and the reason for being. Produce. The purest form of nutrition, sustenance, refreshment, energy.

On an endless quest for production, I cycle through days of contentment with life. I find joy in the quiet days, energy in the activity and simplicity in the evenings of rest. Those days are delicious. Like the pop of fresh grapes between my teeth, they squirt excitement over days to come and fondness over memories shortly behind. Like the lingering bite of citrus, they chastise me with longing when I impatiently run ahead of contentment into chaos.

Chaotic days are filled with raucous questions. They flap wildly in my mind, interrogating my heart, “Why do you do what you do? What are you actually producing? What value are  you? Whose memory will you be? Aren’t you wasting your life?”

Most days are filled with uncomplicated habits. Two mornings a week I co-lead an exercise bootcamp with a friend. On Wednesday afternoons, I coordinate a Bible study in my home. I write. I manage my home, help at my church, workout, feed my family. But? What? Good? Is? That?

I’m not sure what spurs this anxiety. It seems to stem from a lack of self-assurance. Isn’t that the modern plague – insecurity? Like a graveyard for joy, society dumps discontentment, anger and hurt on low self-esteem. But I can’t accept that diagnosis for myself. It seems like the coward’s way out; like gulping down a little pink capsule and patting myself on the back in consolation. “Everyone feels this way, Dear. You’re OK, in fact, you’re amazing, give yourself some credit.”

The reverse might be more true. I’m tangled in disappointment because I expect more of myself than I can possibly produce. Maybe, I’m not Superwoman and I was’t meant to be Superwoman, and I really only want to be Superwoman because I think she’s amazing and then I could be legitimately proud of myself. Maybe I was created frail and helpless, needy and incomplete.

When I peel away of my excuses and peer into my motives I discover a determination to be self-sufficient, needless. Chasing this, I fail. I fail. I fall.

I brought my pain to Abba’s throne. Maybe it’s the recent Olympics that framed my prayer in sports vernacular.

“Jesus, I am waiting for you. I am so tired of running a lap-less, endless race.”

I don’t get frequent visions, and I would never put the images of my mind on par with Joseph’s dreams in the Old Testament, but as I prayed, I saw, as clearly as I have ever heard, Jesus answer me.

I stood inside a boxing ring. I couldn’t even see my opponent. I was my own opponent. Quietly, Jesus walked into the ring where I fought – bloodied, bruised and beginning to swing in wild panic. Jesus wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and led me away from the ring. As we reached the floor, He lifted my hand in victory.

Three times during the final week of July, Abba confronted me with the concept of rest. His final tap on my spirit came as She Loves chose, “Rest: Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace,” as the theme for the month of August.

Have you ever tried so hard to quiet your mind and pinch your eyes closed that you kept yourself from sleeping? My hardest struggle is trying too hard to rest. I schedule my leisure, plan my deep breaths and hurry past them. If rest doesn’t arrive on time, it is simply too late.

But rest, peace, isn’t my responsibility. I can’t make rest happen any more than I can make the sun shine, the grass stop growing, the night last longer.

Abba, you give me peace when I think on you, because I trust you. I trust you with my work as well as with my rest. You, Oh Lord, are everlasting, never sleeping. I will wait for you in the place where you make all decisions, where you orchestrate the rotations of the earth. I will remember your faithfulness with assurance and know that you will produce all that happens in the next seconds and years of my life without my help. My soul yearns for you in the night, when my head is on my pillow you continue to move quietly, letting me rest. (personal paraphrase of Isaiah 26:3,8,9 and Ps. 121:3)

 

Oh Lord, you have ordained peace for [me], for you have indeed done for [me] all [my] works.” Isaiah 26:12

 

 

What Will I Do If I Ever Grow Up?

Kylie trudges along on her back, scooting her bald spot across the carpet, rubbing away the downy baby fuzz. Her mom watches carefully, shielding the corner of the hearth with her body.

For six months, every day has been a new beginning. From the first breach of the womb, to the first explosive diaper, the first bath, the first trip to the nursery. What will she be when she grows up? Glimpses backwards at photos of Mom and Dad spur expectations for the future.

But I make no plans. I’m still wondering what I will be when I grow up. What will I do with the rest of my life?

My husband is in the Army. When I pledged myself to him, ten years ago, I could only see two years down our timeline. Those same two years have traced a loop five times. And I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

I have unpacked a new home in four states. Each time it felt like getting my own room for the very first time; childhood swept over me from behind.

Barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I wanted to be brave. Four plain walls to paint any color I wished. The first night in my new room, I woke up fumbling for the bathroom and walked straight into the closet. I lay awake for hours, keenly aware of new creaks and groans exhaled by the walls. I am still that way, grown up.

In state number three, unpacking felt like Christmas. Excitement buzzed between my husband and me as we pulled brown paper packages from crudely labeled boxes. With each subsequent move, there was even a “first Christmas” ornament.

Pulling out of my driveway and yielding at an unfamiliar intersection was learning to walk all over again. Round-abouts posed threats similar to trying to roller skate the day after my first baby step. I got lost and confused, cars buzzed by me at grownup speeds. Every landmark looked the same, like being surrounded by dozens of adult knees, all clad in denim.

My heart cringes with sympathy for those poor families sent overseas. I struggle to simply learn my new city’s slang. Once, I ventured a comment about the civil war in a coffee shop in southern Georgia. I was nearly run out of town on a rail, unaware that it was really “the war of northern aggression.” I do my best to mimic the vernacular of the natives; I am often rewarded by chuckles and a lesson in diction.

Crossing the stage at my alma mater, I believed I was done with new school jitters. Now, bi-annually, I subject myself to that same drama as I search for a new church and gym. I try to walk confidently down crowded halls, pretending I know where I’m going. I don’t want to be singled out as the new girl and introduced to the women’s ministry leader or the locally famous personal trainer.

I stalk bulletin boards, scanning them for post-its about groups, clubs and classes where I can show up anonymously and make friends on my own terms. I wonder how I should dress for the worship service? Is this a casual khaki environment or your mother’s Sunday best?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of each new home, is finding a new hairdresser. That decision alone has the power to effect every first impression. A highlighting mistake or failed permanent out weighs the worst “baby’s first haircut.” Even a bowl cut or months of unexplained baldness pale in comparison to green hair. The effects of my worst experience lingered through the next move.

My life feels like a broken record. No steady career lengthens my resume. Few accolades for community service can be garnered in 24 months. By the time I’ve mastered these rudimentary skills it’s time to leave again.

Kylie is almost walking now. Things that were once experiments are now old habits. Soon she will say, “Momma,” and then graduate to big-girl words like, “dog,” and, “Mississippi.” That is the way life is supposed to be: you scale the step ladder, climb the tree, and one day the corporate ladder.

Me? I am still wondering what I will do when I grow up.