dawned on me this morning, as I awoke again with great frustration in
regard to the stiffness and pain in both heels, that often my
external world is a parable for the internal.
I was so excited in May to discover that my brother and sis-in-law were playing on a co-ed softball team this summer. For the past few years I've wanted to play but have been unable to find a team. It has been so much fun to be active and have camaraderie on and off the field and connect weekly with my bro and sis! Until the weekend warrior took her first sprint from home to first base. I felt them pull – the achilles tendons. Ugh, I thought. I need to stretch more next time.
Next time I did stretch. Though still tender, I played. And on the first play, when I had to chase down a ball in the outfield, I pulled a calf muscle and strained my achilles again. This time it affected my entire week – I had to drive Bailey (my dog) down to the local middle school for exercise. Usually we walk, but I was too sore to do so. And I love walking...it is an essential part of my life rhythm.
Once again, this week, I strained my achilles on the jaunt to first base. In the morning I thought, “Gosh, this is the first day I've walked normally all week. I feel good.” Bailey and I even walked down to the school and I was at a “normal” pace again with little soreness. And yet, I was secretly hoping the game would be rained out so that I would have another week to rest. No such luck...the weather didn't say no for me...I needed to say no for me. And I didn't. And now...I'm back to hobbling and R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and a deep frustration with myself.
This may be obvious to others (ahem) but why do I keep playing when I keep injuring myself? Why would I risk rupturing my Achilles, (several of you have so ever gently suggested this possibility which I have ever so gently disregarded) which would take me out with more pain for even longer? Why am I so damned driven to keep playing when so much (it seems in my imagination, it's only a recreational league for crying out loud) is on the line? Is it no pain, no gain?
My first response: “Because we were short players and they needed me.” My second response is, “And I'm pretty good at it and don't want to miss out on the fun of playing.” In that I hear my indispensability and grandiose self-importance. In that I hear my enjoyment and my desire to not miss out on something I've been longing to do for a few years.
The irony: I sit across from people every week who, if you will, continue to re-injure their souls by continuing to say yes in ministry (or in life) to people and projects because of their own sense of indispensability... even though they're tired and on the verge of rupturing their soul. I recognize it, I ever so gently remind them of the possibility of keeping up this pace, and they ever so gently disregard the path toward healing. Only, I forget that every person I meet is a mirror to my own soul. And I sit here amazed and not a little embarrassed at my own ways of straining forward to reach a goal both physically and spiritually. The drive to be needed and/or necessary, sadly, can so often unhealthily motivate me.
In this I know there's a deeper layer...no doubt I am trying to meet a healthy need (to enjoy a recreational activity both physically and socially)...but there is an unhealthy manner hidden in my inability to “just say no” especially when my no feels costly to myself and to others. I can hear my chorus of inner critic voices chanting: “But what will they do without you?” “You can't let them down.” I don't think the gospels ever record Jesus (or His Father or the Spirit) saying these phrases... hmmm, more to ponder here.
Henri Nouwen speaks of the growth and satisfaction of our lives coming from more of an un-doing than doing. He writes,
It is hard to leave our people, our job, and the hectic places where we are needed in order to be with the One from whom all good things come. [But when we do we] can unmask the illusion of busyness, usefulness, and indispensability. It is a way of being empty and useless in the presence of God and of proclaiming our basic belief that all is grace and nothing is simply the result of hard work.”
Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder
So, I have to leave my softball for a few weeks or more. I probably have to “leave” a few other things as the Lord unmasks more of my illusions of usefulness and indispensability – these strained soul places that I keep re-injuring. I will feel empty and useless sidelined, merely “cheering on my team.” The irony is without me, the team lost one game by over 20 runs...and with me we lost by over 20 runs...so, uh...maybe I'm not as indispensable as I think or want to be after all.
Lord, grant me the grace to be empty and useless in Your Presence...and healing of both my physical and soul achilles. Amen