For most of my life I have been blessed in feeling as though my body has been a friend. I don’t take this for granted because I know that this has not been the case for many people. During this past year, however, it has felt more like my body has been my enemy than a friend. I suppose part of the pain I’ve been experiencing (more on that later) is a sense of betrayal by a friend.
For the past year, I have been dealing with a very bad case of plantar faciitis. It seems like such a silly injury in comparison with the other injuries I’ve sustained over the years (three knee surgeries to date). And while I do have continuing pain in my knees, it has been pretty manageable. But the plantar faciitis has felt like a knife in my heel and it has been pretty constant for the better part of a year.
I have found this nearly constant pain as something that not only saps my energy but also constricts my awareness. I like to wake up in the morning, say my prayers, and look forward to the possibilities of a new day. Then I get out of bed and step on the floor and my entire consciousness shrinks to the tiny area of the stabbing pain in my heel. I tried during the day to open myself to God, my environment and others, but I must admit it’s been tough when the pain of my foot keeps pulling me into myself.
My strategy for the better part of the year has been to say that I am going to fight this injury and win. I suppose this has enabled me to gut out the pain and continue to lead a pretty full life. I am grateful to have gotten through the worst of the pain, so that is something. But I must confess that this strategy was wearing me down and making me somewhat crabby.
I am happy to say that I have made some real progress in the past couple of months. I attribute a large part of this progress to a change in my attitude: I have tried to stop thinking of my body and my injuries as enemies to be defeated and to start thinking of them as enemies that I should love. Yes, I decided to see how Jesus’ command to love our enemies might apply to the times when I feel my body is my enemy. You know, the disloyal friend who betrayed me, the snake in the grass who bit me on the heel, the liar who says he is on my side when in reality he is out to cause me harm. My body did all that. My body acted like an enemy. What if I tried to love it instead of defeat it?
So first it is important to remember that love of enemies (in the biblical sense) is not the same thing as liking your enemy. There is no way I am ever going to like the stabbing pain in my heel. But that’s not what Jesus means by love. For Jesus, love is really more like wishing for the wellbeing of someone and actively seeking to enhance that wellbeing. I decided to try that with my body.
So instead of trying to push through the pain, I decided to think about and pray about the wellbeing of my body. And one of the benefits of prayer is the process of trying to align my desires with God’s will and purposes. So, I realized, at my age, hoping and praying for a body that felt like it did when I was in my early twenties is not realistic. I trust that God can do anything, but in my prayers for the wellbeing of my body the enemy, I realized that perhaps what I ought to desire is not a miraculous healing, but rather a subsidence of pain and a manageable level of comfort to enable me to lead a good life for someone my age.
I have felt a little funny about praying for my body (it seems so self-centered). But I have found it has helped. It has given me a renewed sense of gratitude for my embodied life, even in the midst of pain. Yes, this enemy, who is causing me so much pain, is also the friend who played soccer, enjoyed meals with family, and embraced my wife.
Praying for the wellbeing of my body has also helped me to get practical. I have decided to lose a few pounds and this has helped with my knee and foot pain. Instead of trying to beat my enemy into submission, I have tried to do something practical that will help its wellbeing.
And as someone who takes with utmost seriousness the incarnation of the Word and the resurrection of Christ, I have become more cognizant of the fact that one of the ways in which we participate in the redemption of God is through our embodied lives. I do hope for a resurrection body in the life to come in which there will be no more mourning or tears or dying. But the Christian hope is that it will still be in some significant sense the body I have now. I figured I better get reconciled with my body sooner rather than later.
Amy and I have just spent a wonderful week in the Adirondacks with our old friends Craig and Katharine Phares before taking the train to the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY for mission orientation. We had a splendid time, and we hiked a number of mountains in the High Peaks region. In fact, we hiked a couple of mountains (Cascade and Giant) that Craig, Amy and I had hiked several times together going back over twenty years.
For me it was a bit slower going up the mountains than when I was in my twenties, and it was a whole lot more painful on the way down. But my old friend of a body carried me up the side of a mountain in order to enjoy the extraordinary views from the top and it carried me down again to enjoy a couple of beers with close friends. The pain in my foot and my knees was still there, but it has subsided a great deal and was manageable.
At dinner I thanked God for old friends with whom I have built up so many shared experiences of joy. And I said a little prayer of gratitude for my body and decided to give it a break with a day of rest.