by the Night Writer
When I was younger my athletic endeavors gravitated toward the whacking and smacking games like football and hockey. Even when I played the more “finesse” games like soccer and basketball, my style tended to be more physical; in all games I was never going to be the one to make the pinpoint pass or long-range shot but I took a savage satisfaction from re-arranging someone’s internal organs or surviving a similar attempt on my own. That was fun for a few seasons but it took a toll on my body — though most of the payments were deferred well into the future. Consequently I have been seeing a chiropractor for the past couple of weeks.
I have also been continuing the Bible studies with the men in the Red Wing correctional facility, some of whom have spent significant time in heavy security prisons such as Oak Park and Stillwater before coming to Red Wing. In our last meeting we were talking about becoming new creations in Christ, and what that looks like in our lives. There was talk about putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new man”. I try to be as down to earth as possible in these discussions and my recent health experiences gave me a useful example.
I told the guys about the three surgeries I’ve had on my left knee since I was in college, and how lately I’ve been experiencing chronic pain above my right hip and periodic numbness and weakness in my legs. When I accompanied my daughter on her visit to a chiropractor to have her baby “spun” before delivery I ended up having an exam of my own. After I described my symptoms the doctor had me stand up straight while she took some notes and measurements, then she had me lie on a massage table for more of the same as she determined that I didn’t have a disc problem. Long story short, however, the combination of pain and numbness I’ve been experiencing wasn’t being caused by the hip, per se, but by all the years that I’ve been favoring my left leg and making the right side do most of the work. Standing “straight” my posture was three inches forward of it’s proper axis and also twisted a bit to one side. The doctor also described how pressure had stressed several of my joints and ligaments to where they were virtually locked at level 5 on a 5-point scale, or, in more descriptive terms, at “red alert” on the fight or flight scale. I was a little dubious about the diagnosis, but after she put me back on the table and pressed steadily on various parts of my body for thirty minutes I got up and couldn’t believe the sudden increase in range of motion, the absence of pain and how I suddenly felt two inches taller and ten years younger. I went home that afternoon like a new man, able to bend and stoop to pick up things without first thinking out a strategy.
That feeling, I told the men, was like first receiving salvation or the revelation of Christ and the Holy Spirit living within me. In getting up from that massage table I suddenly felt free of the things I’d done to myself and the mistakes of my youth, and even from the things I hadn’t realized were hurting me and distorting my life. The rest of that day and the next I felt great, but inevitably my “flesh” overcame me as my body started to revert back to what it had been accustomed to. Old habits – and old muscle memory – are hard to break. Now I go back to the chiropractor to receive further adjustments, and each time there’s less work for her to do and more response from my “new” man. For the guys, I compared these ongoing adjustments to going to church or Bible study regularly. I make progress each time, but the “old” body still wants to come back during the in-between. Conceivably, there could come a time when I’ve been totally “renewed” and don’t need the chiropractor to lay hands on me other than for maintenance. What I especially wanted the men to understand, however, is that if I truly want to make progress I need to do the exercises and stretches the doctor gave me to do in between times; it has to become something that I take on for myself. Otherwise I’ll simply be looking to the doctor to make things better without changing anything myself — just as we can sometimes do with our pastors or with going to church or Bible study. Sure, I might get temporary relief or encouragement, but without a personal change and commitment the results will be both fleeting and diminishing. To do that, I may have to change my stance or mentally catch myself when I start to fall into an old, familiar posture and deliberately shift my weight and re-align myself.
A final thought: I spent all those years consciously and unconsciously favoring my left leg, thinking I was doing something “good” by trying to make its life easier. The end result, however, was that that leg became weaker (approximately 85% the size of my right leg) AND the distortion ended up weakening my “good” side, causing pain and restricting the things I can do. Favoring the left leg did it and me no favors in the long run; we need to accept and understand that doing the things we need to do may be uncomfortable and even painful in the short term but will ultimately pay off. Similarly, we may need to look at others in the body of Christ the same way. Not that we should be deliberately callous or unsympathetic — it is “our” body after all — but expecting others who come to us in crisis to stretch and exercise is ultimately good for them. Certainly there are times when an arm or a leg needs to be in a sling or cast and supported, but those parts also need physical and spiritual therapy lest they become too dependent. When that happens our good intentions and their dependence can end up distorting the joining and knitting of our joints and keeping us from reaching out (in even greater strength because of our rehabilitated members) to others who need help.