Have you ever made plans only to have them washed away? I took the summer off with visions of rest, refilling, refueling. Honestly, I was a little tired of hearing myself talk and write. At the same time I took a break from writing and speaking, the people at Jesus Calling put a pause on the nationwide weekly prayer call I was co-hosting. My colleague there retired on June 1 and so they wisely decided to take a breath and regroup about the call’s future. I loved doing it but I also loved the space it created when it went on a break.
With all this space in my life, I planned extra time with family, an anniversary trip, our annual family beach vacation, some projects I wanted to work on, books I wanted to read. You know the feeling.
Instead, my life took a total left turn. I got re-routed, just like what happens when my car’s GPS spies a wreck up ahead or a road closure or if I take a wrong turn. It flashes the message, Re-Routing, Re-Routing, Re-Routing.
The left turn was actually my left hip. In the spring, when I returned to some in-person speaking, I quickly realized that I was not the same physically as I had been pre-pandemic. My left hip was chronically sore. I was limping. My gait way off. Stairs became my enemy. I don’t enjoy going to the doctor but went. I thought they would teach me some new exercises or recommend fish oil supplements. Instead, I received the shocking news that I needed a total hip replacement. In my mind, hip replacements are not for people still in their fifties and not for people with big plans for the summer. I did not believe them. I chose an injection to see if I could buy myself some time before I had to face replacement. The doctor told me it likely would not help because the hip was so degenerated. He warned that I could not have surgery for 3 months after the injection. I wished I had listened better. Within two weeks of the injection, the pain accelerated while my mobility began disappearing.
Suddenly the surgery I did not believe I needed was the only thing on my mind. But…it was so…far…away…not until September. My summer became a time of painful waiting.
I’ve written before about seasons of waiting. I’ve written before that Christians spend more time waiting than any other part of the faith journey. Sure we have Easter but we also have 364 other days of the year where it is more wilderness, more prayer, more ordinary days, more waiting.
And now I found myself in full time chronic pain, low mobility waiting. Waiting where it hurt. Waiting where sleep was elusive. Waiting where I couldn’t easily get from point a to point b. Waiting when I lost my daily soul walk. Waiting when I couldn’t do all the things that feed my soul, like full yoga classes or simply watering the plants on my patio. Waiting when I can barely get my shoes and clothes on and off. Waiting when my three year old grandson says, “Hold me, Mosa.” Meaning, can you pick big old me up? (I cannot.) Waiting as I had to humble myself and use a walker at home, then in public, then all the time.
Have you ever found yourself in a time of waiting? Painful waiting? Frustrating waiting?
Sometimes even waiting for good things becomes uncomfortable. Waiting for a baby to be born, waiting to be finished with school, waiting for a loved one to come home, a promotion, a special event. Even watching a sunset or sunrise can make us practice the art of waiting. I almost always want to leave before God’s light show is finished. I make myself stay. Often the best part is just past my discomfort point.
This summer has been a total re-route for me but I’ve learned some things. I’m sharing a few in case these are helpful to you or someone you love. One benefit of hard things is when we can use them to help each other.
There is an art to waiting, especially when waiting is painful and uncomfortable. I do not like the kind of waiting where you don’t know the outcome. In a book entitled Focus, Cleere Cherry Reaves points out that sometimes in the waiting we question God’s goodness. We may find our faith wavering. She points out that it is the waiting that we become more ripe for God’s work. Then she dares to say this: the miracle is in the waiting. This waiting battle–the one between the fear of what our eyes see and God’s reality…is hard pressed and necessary. She includes this tiny prayer, Jesus, in the wait, I learn who you are. (p. 177-178)
I learned that waiting sometimes requires new mind pictures. My suffering was enhanced when I pictured myself as a victim or as a very frail and elderly person. One day God nudged me with the idea that I needed a new picture of myself, one of a healthy person with a temporary leg problem. I decided to see myself as Dak Prescott after he broke his ankle or Tiger Woods after his accident. It worked. Seeing myself as a large healing athlete did the trick.
I learned I need to work on humility. Previously to this I took walking, shopping, hopping in and out of my car, doing yoga and going up and downstairs stairs for granted. I was less than humble in my able body. I am now much more grateful for ADA access that others fought for. I am learning to ask for help, to accept my limitations, to get over myself and be grateful for the walker that is keeping me safe and upright.
I learned to practice active hope. This is acting on the hope you can’t yet see. It is what our faith calls us to every day. We can’t see God. We can’t see heaven. We can’t see the big picture but we act as if it is already a reality. I made a list of active things I can do while waiting for surgery. Every day when I do those little things, my hope is enhanced.
I learned to practice looking up and surrendering every day. These are the two keys to spiritual maturity. I wrote and spoke about them so much during the pandemic. They work for every kind of pandemic you might find yourself in.
Do you believe it is true that we find out who God is during the wait? Is it possible we find out who we are too through our most painful seasons?
I did not enjoy this summer of re-route and yet I did. I tried hard to focus on what I could do and not what I couldn’t. I tried to savor the joy that miraculously showed up in the pain. Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote about her own journey, In this year of writing…pain was a steady companion, holding hands with joy. Growing Slow, p. 43.
God will transform any situation. God will show us how to cope. God will feed our souls with teachers, tidbits, helpers and transforming thoughts. This image of pain holding hands with joy has helped me. Richard Rohr says the two faces of God are pain and joy. If so, I’ve seen God this summer.
Today, September 1, is surgery day. I treasure your prayers for me, the health care workers, my family and the healing which I know God will bring.
Are you being re-routed somehow? Take heart. You will learn in the wait who Jesus is.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor, soon to be owner of a new hip, Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. To read more blogs or to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle emails, go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com.