Yesterday, my head missed the hard rim of the tub … by one inch.
I lay on the bathroom floor for almost five minutes after I tripped, unable to feel or move my right arm from the elbow down. With my left hand over wet eyes, I whispered, “Thank You, Jesus, for protecting my head. Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou …” I had walked into the bathroom to take out the trash. Now the trashcan was broken in plastic pieces beside me. Tears flowed. “Oh, thank You, Father. Thank You that bones are not broken, too.”
When I could move my fingers, and pain replaced the numbness, I knew I would be sore for a few days.
Sure enough, this morning I woke up to pain. A throbbing wrist, a bruised hip, a sharp sting in my lower back and between my shoulders. Every joint screamed, even ones that had not been hit in the fall. When my immune system responds to an injury, the backlash comes everywhere. Lupus likes to kick me when I’m down.
I fall a lot. Pain is sometimes the way I face the morning. But I am not as upset about the frequency of my falling as you might think. Tripping means I am walking. There was a time after my brainstem stroke when doctors thought walking was something I would never do again. So I guess you could say tripping can be a good problem to have. It’s all about perspective.
People frequently ask me about the title of my memoir, Twelve Clean Pages. I wrote the reference in a subtle way, and most people miss it. From page 28:
“There were only twelve years before illness found me, only twelve pages left clean in my life. They represent the time before I opened this sketchbook heart to the hand of a brilliant Artist– the Author and Perfecter of my faith. The pages turned since have been ruined gloriously. On each day is an illustration of His grace.”
I was twelve years old the last time I felt well and had energy. Those early years were sweet, and they were just long enough to leave me hungry for a new heaven and a new earth and the new body I will have one day.
Here is the interesting thing about hunger: we see the hunger of the body and the hunger of the heart in completely different ways. Every day, we wake up to hunger. Our bodies want food. They need nourishment, and no one is surprised by that. We address the problem with something called “breakfast.” As we eat, no one expects that satiation to last long. We know we will be hungry again in a few hours. After breakfast, we have a remedy called “lunch.” Then, we prepare our minds for the next bout. We have a plan in place called “dinner.” If we are hungry in between, we reach for “snacks.”
We treat our hunger all day long, and the next day there is hunger again. Hunger is the body saying, “I want nourishment. Now.” Hunger is a good signal that lets us know our bodies need to be refreshed in order to keep functioning in top condition. Hunger is the default until we do something about it. Hunger doesn’t mean something is wrong with our bodies; it means something is right. Everything is operating as designed. Hunger is healthy.
Contrast the hunger of the body to the hunger of the heart. Ache is the hunger of the heart. Sometimes we wake up to it. It chases us in the middle of the day. It finds us again by nightfall. Ache is the heart saying, “I want nourishment. Now.” Ache is a good signal that lets us know our hearts need to be refreshed in order to keep functioning in top condition. Ache is the default until we do something about it. Ache doesn’t mean something is wrong with our hearts; it means something is right. Everything is operating as designed. Ache is healthy.
But we keep thinking we can treat our heart-hungry ache just once, and it will go away forever. Then grief comes back to visit. Depression and loneliness crawl into our pockets and demand to be taken along on our walk. We feel like a failure when our hearts are hungry again, and we begin to worry about ourselves. We add a pile of fear onto the weight of the ache, and try to carry all of it. We had expected to pray and be done. What, oh what, is wrong with us.
During times when my heart was particularly aching, I would have moments when I would pray and surrender to God in the morning and then think, “I’m better today! This is a good day! I think I’ve finally kicked this thing. I’m going to be all right!” But then a few hours later, I would be a crying heap. “Why can’t I get past this?!” I would lament. I didn’t see heartache as an internal alert system, the way I saw hunger pangs. In forty years, I have never expected my body to eat once and be done with hunger. Why was I being so hard on my resilient little heart?
Ache meant my heart was hungry for heaven and Him again, you see. Spiritual nourishment doesn’t always last until evening, any more than breakfast does. Simple things like playing worship songs while I drive or reading uplifting Christian books or calling a friend who is an encourager or playing the Bible on CD while I work around the house, or an ongoing prayer conversation are all ways of planting heaven into my plot of earth, growing a garden, and feeding my heart real food.
If you are going through a painful time, do not be surprised if one spiritual meal doesn’t cut it. Your heart may ache on and off within the same day, so just expect it. Ache is a healthy signal reminding you to feed your heart. Make sure you have a plan in place and resources at hand. When my body is hungry and I am unprepared, I will eat whatever is in my purse; a lollipop, a handful of Tic Tacs, a crumbly packet of Saltines. None of it fills me, of course. When my heart is hungry, I tend to reach for all kinds of mind-nubbing junk. None of that fills me, either. This is true: “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat” (Matthew 5:6, MSG). If your heart tells you it’s hungry, make sure you reach for Him.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. Until He comes for us, we can expect to be hungry here. Ache is sometimes the way we face the morning. It means we have worked up a good appetite for God.
And those who hunger and thirst for Him will be filled.
So I guess you could say heart-hungering ache can be a good problem to have. It’s all about perspective.