A few times a year during grade school my need to just lay on the couch and receive undiluted attention from my mom outweighed my love of school. On cue, I could fake a deep, barking cough. It did the trick every time.
My mom worked nearby, able to come home for a 15-minute break and lunch. I can still see her walking into the TV room, sitting beside me on the couch and gently putting her cool hand on my forehead asking, “How are you feeling?” Before she left, she would tuck the blanket under my chin, kiss my cheek, and leave me to enjoy rest and the big space of quiet and of solitude.
In this way I was wiser as a child than I am now. I did not feel badly about faking illness to get those few self-renewing days off a year. I did not feel uncomfortable or selfish receiving such care from my mom. But at some point during this past decade, I stopped believing it was ok to put myself before a deadline or the needs of others. I chose self-sacrifice over self-care not only because it was appreciated more, but because it allowed me to feel important and indispensable–the hero of the day.
But as I ignored the calls for real rest and self-care, my body continued to communicate to me in its own way: strained retina, tendonitis, hives, pneumonia. And I would respond with grumbling complaints and a few hours off here and there. But what it wanted me to lay down, more than the weight of my own body onto a soft couch, was the weight of the learned belief that if I put myself first, if I rest and relax, if I stop pushing relentlessly hard to serve, I will fail. I will lose everything and everyone I have worked for.
The great irony and the most wonderful teacher was losing everything anyway! Ha! Ha! What more powerful way to learn that happiness does not come from outward striving? As Anne Hillman quoted to me from Ecclesiastes 4:6:
Better is one hand full of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
My recent bulging or ruptured disc was an injury painful enough to finally and firmly propel me to a place where taking care of myself is essential to a life of service. Just as the pain of depression this past year created in me the resolve to never take my mental health for granted again, the pain of this back injury has led me to a similar resolve and this declaration: If I want people to enjoy and find inspiration in the light that shines from my soul than I must tend to the temple that holds it.
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