Wellness or sameness—which will it be?

by Kristin on November 7, 2011

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by gallus

I imagine every pregnant woman feels the same conflict about eight months into the pregnancy: a fear of what it will take to get that baby out, matched by a weariness at the thought of carrying the baby in-utero for much longer. (Note: I am not even a little bit pregnant, let alone eight months pregnant!)

Luckily, as pregnant women, we don’t have a choice. There is no turning back—no one gives you the option of deciding to just stay pregnant. As every pregnant woman knows, there must be pain before joy and healing, so we face it with (mostly) resolve. Soon we will hold that baby in our arms! And maybe our bodies will eventually feel “normal” again!

I was thinking about this a while back, as I listened to my friend Lorna share her experience with a very slow, painful healing process after surgery. I’ve never had surgery, but it brought to mind my pregnancies, childbirth experiences, and post-partum recovery. Truly being delivered—being restored—is a process you have to go through, not something you can run from or detour around.

True healing is something we have to decide to go all-in on

In telling her own story of healing, Lorna mentioned Sara Miles’ book Jesus Freak, which says (I’m paraphrasing) that Jesus often presents the choice like this: Do we really want to be well, even if it hurts? Do we want to be well more than we want to be the same?

My first reaction goes something like this: “Why does it have to be like that, Jesus? Can’t you make healing happen another way? Maybe if I could just escape all of this and go to Italy for a few months to think and rest (and drink wine), I could be healed.” (Yes, a reference to a post last week, Enough with the hardship-meets-privilege memoirs.)

But I know it can’t really work like that. Healing has to emerge from pain, not outside of the pain. And avoidance—sticking with the status quo—can only be an option for so long. That baby has to come out of its womb. Those tears have to pour out of my eyes. That argument has to happen, in a way that allows our real feelings to be freed from clenched fists. Those friends have to be said goodbye to, and maybe that marriage has to end. That opportunity has to belong to someone else, at least for now. I have learning and growing, laboring and healing to do.

Jesus’ whole life and death seem to have been predicated on that pattern: pain then healing, brokenness made whole. While sameness definitely has its appeal (and even appealed to Jesus as he prayed to God just before his crucifixion), I know I don’t want to stay the same—that’s something I can be sure of. I have my own collection of painful-times-turned-to-joy to remind me why the difficult trek through the pain is worth it.

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  • Lorna

    I think that sometimes we just want to remain as we are because we just don’t know what we will have to go through to get beyond it. It is a case of fighting the enemy you know versus going into unknown territory, starting new battles. Miles acknowledges this in her statement, “Do we want to be well more than we want to be the same?” I didn’t have much of a choice *but* to go through the pain in my (physical) healing, but a lot of us do have that choice with emotional, or life situation pains. Sometimes it feels like it will never get better. Sometimes our version of “better” is not the same as the outcome we receive. But this is what it means to live our lives. Taking chances, working through pain, having hope, are all evidence that we are *living*, not just letting life happen to us. Thanks for the reminder Kristin.

  • Ron Simkins

    Hi Kristin, Great reminder of one of those truths most of us want to hide from even though we have often experienced it. And, as you say, we have all experienced this reality in terms of the process of physical healing. I have not had the pregnancy experience, but as an avid sports person in my younger years, I would suggest that the same is true there. All dedicated players in every sport will tell you that the pain of training and preparing has often led to thoughts of quitting and wondering if it is worth it. Same truth with any PhD student and her/his dissertation or any Med student and residency. Getting to the goals we enjoy and/or are called to often involves some pain. But, most of us try to avoid it in terms of sprititual growth and relationship growth don’t we?

  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    This reminds me of the basic elements of Christianity: incarnation, death, resurrection and redemption. Too often I want to skip everything and get straight to the redemption, but I think the entire process has to run its course. Especially the “death” part.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Lorna, I think you’re absolutely right with this: “It is a case of fighting the enemy you know versus going into unknown territory…” I know that’s what has been at the heart of my hesitancy going into big changes in the past. That’s why it’s sort of nice to have no choice, isn’t it? (Like recovering from surgery or having that baby.) Thanks for sharing your story with me and many others, and reminding us how important it is to actively *live,* not just let life happen.

    Ron, we sort of like to know what our return on investment will be before we invest a lot of effort and pain into something, don’t we? And if we can’t imagine what the other side might look or feel like—let alone know that we’ll make it—it’s hard to be motivated by that fuzzy ROI. To use an athlete metaphor, I can’t begin to imagine what it would feel like to run and finish a marathon, so it’s tough to get motivated to work toward such a goal. :) Finishing a spiritual “race” feels even more abstract!

    Shawn, yeah, a whole lot of life—especially the “good” life—seems dependent on a process, doesn’t it? Letting go…and patience and perseverance…

  • Ron Simkins

    Kristin, you are certainly right that we all want to know what our return on our investment will be, but I would argue that we never have enough information to really know. I have recently been reading the book Stumbling Into Happiness by Gilbert – recommended to me by your husband, and the author claims that all of our scientific research indicates that we are terrible predictors of our own future and of how it will or will not make us happy even when we get what we think we want. I would certainly argue that is also true about pregnancy. And, that at best, we want to move toward a future that is attested to by people who are wise and whom we trust. It is great when I remember to put God at the top of that list. Your great and thanks for making me think about things like this.

  • Joi

    This post set me to thinking about easy and hard. Don’t we all think we want “easy” rather than hard? And isn’t it absolutely essential for us to eventually recognize that anything worth having or accomplishing will require work or pain? And perhaps this is the difference between success and failure at all levels of living. That would be true of weight loss, budgeting, studying, forgiving, housekeeping, creating, compromising, sharing, etc. The choices we make each day grow us up when we choose “hard,” and they stagnate us when we choose “easy.” Look around and see how this is true. Whether you are having babies, scrubbing floors, facing chemo, writing an essay or searching for a job, facing up to what’s hard each day and doing it (usually the procrastinated thing) is the substance of self-satisfaction and maturity. Resisting/avoiding the hard or potentially painful challenge because it will be is what spoils us. Jesus said “Take up your cross and follow me.” And I must admit I don’t relish that idea at all! But like you said, I have learning and growing, laboring and healing to do.

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  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Jesus seems awfully nice in theory, but when he actually goes about the business of healing us, he stirs things up, forces us to face our demons, and then takes us to a new place we could never imagine before. I often compare it to walking with a limp all of your life, going through major surgery, and then discovering what it is to actually walk in freedom for the first time.

  • Lorna

    Ed, love this sentence: “Jesus seems awfully nice in theory, but when he actually goes about the business of healing us, he stirs things up, forces us to face our demons, and then takes us to a new place we could never imagine before.” I think a lot of us expect Jesus to *be* the nice guy, and the key word here is “expect”. When we face the reality that life really is hard work, that can be the turning point toward growth or stagnation.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Ron, I’m so glad you’re reading the Gilbert book on happiness and that you brought it into this conversation. More to ponder…

    Joi, this seems very true, both in my gut, and when I stop and think about it for a while: “…anything worth having or accomplishing will require work or pain? And perhaps this is the difference between success and failure at all levels of living.” I think the problem is that most of us have had experiences with good things that have come easily, so we want to think it’s possible. As kids, maybe we were given some toy we really wanted, but it almost never fulfilled and satisfied us the way we thought it would. As adults, it might seem like a job or even a perfect spouse just dropped from heaven into our laps, but we eventually realize that making that job or marriage fulfilling and lasting ultimately takes work.

    ed, it’s that whole “tough love” thing, isn’t it? But when tough love is done Jesus-style it really is all about the love, and it really works. I like your analogy about walking with a limp. It’s hard to fully imagine what that sort of healing would be like, but I guess that’s the point. :)

    Lorna, yes: “When we face the reality that life really is hard work, that can be the turning point toward growth or stagnation.” Looking back on the life I’ve lived so far, I can see several of those crucial fork-in-the-road moments.