When all you can do is be still

I woke Sunday morning with back pain so bad I had trouble walking. The tightness would grip me and I would cry out and lean against someone or something or drop to my knees. Anything to relieve the pain.

It was the most helpless I’ve felt physically since giving birth to my children.

That was enough to convince my husband that we needed to head to urgent care where I would at least get some medication to help with the pain. Two hours of waiting and I was given painkillers and muscle relaxers to manage the pain until it passes or I decide to take another course of action.

So I spent a lot of Sunday being still, not by choice but by necessity.

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Yu-chuan Hsu | Creative Commons | via unsplash

It’s a humbling thing to be in so much pain and rely on others to get you the things you need. I reserved my energy for the effort it took to get off the couch only for necessity (the bathroom).

And I realized that I don’t sit still very well. All day I fought the urge to get up. For food. For drink. To help the kids. Just to do something different. And I found myself getting frustrated because all I did was sit. And rearrange my position for comfort. When I was hungry or needed water, I had to ask. When the rice sock needed re-heating, I had to ask. Apparently I’m not very good at asking, either.

So, it was a hard spot for me to be in. Today I’m a bit better, but still trying to take it easy. My husband is home today, but he won’t be tomorrow and I want to be able to participate in our lives again. It’s a scary prospect, not knowing when or if you’ll be able to do regular life stuff again.

Being still has been my only choice, and I’m surprised at how hard it is.

Is it harder because I didn’t choose it? Because it’s the result of pain?

There’s a psalm that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And I want to believe that I can do that in the midst of everyday life, but when stillness is a necessity and I resist it, maybe I’m in desperate need of it after all. Maybe I need to, even when I’m not bound by pain, behave as though I am. I am a master at starting a dozen different things and finishing none. I am notorious for sitting down to do one thing and remembering 10 other things I could be doing.

Be still? Who has time?

And yet, being still is a gift.

From my vantage point on the couch, I saw a robin land on the tree branches in our front yard, and I watched him watch us, sitting there for minutes. I heard my kids say actual words instead of just hearing their noise. I was aware of everything going on around me because I was undistracted by anything else. And I was dependent on others, so I felt I needed to be present mentally with them. Our daughter snuggled close and I appreciated the closeness. Some days, I’ve been touched too much and can’t handle another sensation, but last night I needed it.

I also took a 2-hour nap, aided by the medicine, I’m sure, but that’s almost unheard of for me. Twenty minutes on rare occasions is about my limit. I’ve resisted naps for as long as I can remember, afraid of missing out. Maybe this is why I choose not to be still. I’m afraid I’ll be missing something.

Stillness is both a necessity and a luxury, and I need to treat it as such.

To the world around me, stillness might look like idleness. But it’s not the same thing.

And maybe that’s what I’m afraid of, too. That if I’m still, I’ll be looked at as lazy. Ours is a culture that values the doers, not the be-ers, so I convince myself to do and do and do until I’m done. (And honestly, who of us is ever done?) Or overdone.

This back pain/muscle strain is a combination of overdoing it (cleaning, walking, chasing the kids at the park) and underdoing it. I have neglected my health for years, and this is just one more indicator that I need to take care of myself.

Otherwise, I’ll be celebrating my 37th birthday next week like an 87-year-old–limitedly mobile, with body aches and pains, ingesting medicine to keep me functioning.

There is a time to do and a time to be, and I pray that I will know and sense the difference. And give equal value to both times.

Something else this forced stillness has reminded me: I want to be well. I don’t want to keep telling the children I can’t do this or that with them because my back hurts. I don’t want this to be my life, and it doesn’t have to be. At least not yet. I have options to relieve my back pain that doesn’t yet involve surgery or chronic pain. Exercise, chiropractic care, yoga, orthopedic footwear. All of these are possibilities, and I am thankful for the choices.

Being still is also a choice. I can say “no” to busyness, “no” to doing one more thing, “no” to my value being only in what I do instead of in who I am.

I don’t have to like it, at least not at first, but stillness is a gift, forced or unforced. And I will learn to appreciate it.

Have you ever been forced to “be still” because of illness or injury? How did you handle that time? What keeps you from regularly being still in your life?

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One thought on “When all you can do is be still

  1. Pingback: How I’m celebrating my 37th birthday | Living Echoes

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