Periodically my back gives me trouble. It happened recently when I spent a day preparing the garden for spring planting. This zealous gardener over did it. Not to worry. Usually one trip to my friendly chiropractor fixes me up just fine. Oh oh, time to worry. It didn’t work this time and my back continued to ache. This prompted a series of return visits, home remedies, new exercises, and self-doubt.
Eventually, it also prompted me to reflect on my health in general and the meaning of life. (The fact that I’m about to turn 65 and thus have been inundated with Medicare literature and decisions amplified my anxiety.) I really don’t feel old and basically consider myself in good health, but occasionally these little blips come up in my life and can send me into a downward spiral of “Woe is me, I might as well say farewell to my current lifestyle, and prepare to be an invalid.” I know I’m being melodramatic but when something interferes with my health it trumps everything else and it’s easy to become obsessed with what’s wrong.
This experience stirred me to think about the concept of “giving away one’s health.” After all, isn’t life a gradual accumulation of cells and skills until we reach a point (always a few years beyond my own age) when we start to lose cells, abilities, knowledge, and memory. (Of course it doesn’t always happen this neatly like a nice bell curve, but my life has been pretty predictable in this way.) When a curve ball comes my way like an illness of some kind, however, it usually prompts me to pray. (I keep telling God that he doesn’t need to get my attention this way, but God doesn’t seem to agree. Maybe I need to ramp up my divine social network – like friend God on Facebook, follow Jesus on Twitter, or put the Spirit on my email database.
Giving away health to a higher power
Well, prayer seems to mysteriously work – not necessarily in the sense of magical cures – but rather through insight and comfort. Some things that prayer re-teaches me each time I start to wallow in self-pity are:
- Calm down. Sitting quietly in prayer calms my over-active imagination and fears.
- Put my problems in perspective. I start to remember that many people in our hurting world have much more serious problems than I do. Some have lost a limb, their income, their mind, a loved one, their way…
- Communion of Saints. This focus on others reminds me of the old/new Catholic concept of the Communion of Saints. I remember how all of us, living and dead, are united. I call upon my beloved deceased grandparents who were the epitome of unconditional love and generosity. Certainly they have God’s ear and I pray through them.
- “Offer It Up.” Typically this leads me to a practice that the good nuns taught us in grade school – “Offer it up.” It made sense to my child’s mind to offer up my little sufferings for others (the souls in purgatory, the starving children in China, etc.) but as a young adult I dismissed this as trite and too passive. Now I return to it with renewed understanding. I start to think of others close to me, especially my own parents and children, who are struggling with various parts of life. It gives me comfort to think that I can let go of my minor suffering and offer it up for the good of another whom I love. It seems to make it useful.
Of course these could all be mind games, but the wisdom of age and faith tells me that God can work through mind games too. How do you deal with health problems?