I’ve been wearing the same yoga pants and t-shirt for 24 hours now. I glance down, and the black shirt, covered in dog hair, features the words “Strong Woman.” I laugh. I don’t feel strong. I’ve been battling the flu for four days now, and today it appears sickness is winning the war. My body feels as though I drank poison, and my muscles are aching from its sting. My hair, pulled up in a dirty, sloppy ponytail, is damp from fever. Yesterday’s mascara is darkening the already dark circles under my eyes. I am a mess.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s words come to mind, as I lay on the couch and assess my current state: “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” Another laugh. Mess…yes. Glorious? Far from it. I want to reject this weak body, weary spirit, and worn-out woman, not embrace her. In fact, that’s what I did for several days until she could no longer be ignored. I came home yesterday and collapsed into bed. Now I lie here, propped on pillows, examining the mess that is me and asking God how I can possibly embrace her, let alone call her “glorious.”
“Let’s start with this body that you’ve been lying here cursing,” he whispers, and I flinch. I’ve been exposed. I don’t like being sick, yet it has been part of my identity since I was a small girl battling fierce allergies. Each spring as the east Tennessee landscape came to life, the air I desperately needed turned toxic. My mother would tend to me with doctor’s visits, allergy shots, prescriptions, and even the soothing comfort of a menthol massage. Thankfully, miraculously, I’m no longer allergic to my native land. However, when any illness comes my way, I feel like that same sick child, gasping for breath.
I speak agreements made long ago with the enemy of my heart, and the words feel familiar and oh-so-true: “You are sickly and weak. Your body isn’t strong enough, and it will fail you. It’s only a matter of time.” In reaction, I pop two or three Ibuprofen and charge ahead, trying to disprove the accusation by sheer effort. I utter these curses in times of sickness, but I accept them at other times as well. During the past year I’ve struggled with back, leg, and foot pain, and while I’ve pursued healing outwardly through chiropractic care and physical therapy, inwardly I’ve embraced the words of the enemy.
Now I find myself in this bed, confronted by the Truth-teller who reminds me that these are ancient lies that need to be rebuked once again. I have a choice: embrace the lies or embrace the “glorious mess.” In The Life of the Body, co-authors Valerie Hess and Lane Arnold explain, “Pain connects us to the brevity and frailness of life and the depth of God’s continual presence. Pain humbles us. Pain rearranges us. Pain can lead us to a deeper intimacy with Christ or to a bitterness that bites the breath out of each moment.”
Pain has led me to a crossroads where I must decide: intimacy or bitterness, surrender or shame, truth or lies.
I choose truth, and I bless this body that is fearfully and wonderfully made to endure fatigue, sickness, and pain. I surrender to the Healer, who relentlessly pursues me to offer healing of body and soul. I faint into His arms, and He encourages me to offer myself mercy and compassion, kindness and rest. In short, He calls me to love. This is embracing: “to hold someone, especially as a sign of affection.” Rather than push away the sick girl in disgust, I embrace her and assure her that she will be well.
Soon my husband tiptoes into the quiet of our bedroom, and I call for him. “Will you hold me?” I ask. Despite my greasy ponytail, pallid skin, and grimy clothes, he curls up behind me. He encircles me in his arms, and his warm body stops the shivering of mine. My weary muscles relax, and my breathing deepens. I allow my mess to be embraced—by myself, by another, and by God—and I am finally able to call her “glorious.”
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.