Lessons learned from a sickbed.

Have you ever experienced a time when your health and well being has failed you? When your body has ceased to function at its best, telling you very clearly, “I’ve had enough! Stop now, I need to rest.” It’s impossible to argue with an overtired, pained body. No amount of will power can change things; instantly healing you and making you fit for service again. While it would be preferable for life to carry on as per normal, there are times when our wellbeing asks and needs to be given first priority. Sometimes the only way to prioritise our health is with a season of forced rest. However, when an exhausted pained body decides to rest, a peaceful resting mind doesn’t always accompany it. 

I’ve recently been forced to rest. After several months of constant back pain, my body decided it wouldn’t get out of bed. I was so tired and sore, even to lift my head off the pillow was an act of sheer will. For me, lying in bed all day and being immobile feels like a punishment. All I can think about is what I need to do, the places I need to be and the people I want to see. I hate having to rely upon others to do my work; especially when those others have enough work of their own. I don’t want to be a burden. It’s a position most humbling and challenging. 

Prior to my being so unwell, I had been struggling internally with some age old questions: “What is my purpose at the moment and are the things I’m doing valuable?” These particular questions niggle me at the beginning of each year. After the summer holidays are over, and the kids return to school and my peers are all busy with their occupations outside the home – I look around me and feel unsettled. 

As a stay-at-home mother of teenagers and writer/blogger, I often wrestle with self-worth and question myself asking, “Should I be doing more to help the family finances?” “Is being just a Mum enough?” Comparing myself to other women is a thorn in my flesh that has felt sore at times. I struggle with the fact that my life doesn’t seem to fit the cultural norm. While I am always busy at home, my time can be flexible. While I am never bored, I often feel lonely (day-time hours can be unconnected to other people). I suffer with chronic pain and therefore have physical limitations and daily challenges, yet I don’t want to be defined by them and there is plenty I can do. I am not paid for a single thing I do. The majority of what I do is often unseen and unsung.

As I lay in bed and cried out to God for some relief; relief from not only my physical pain, but the pain of a mind not at peace – I knew God heard my cry, for he answered me in a number of ways. Firstly, my frustration at being immobile subsided. I allowed myself to be still; giving myself permission to rest. The unrelenting task master that whispers daily in my ear, “You should be doing more” was muted. I thought, “God has allowed this to happen for a reason therefore there is purpose in resting”.

Secondly, I began to dwell on the thought of how much our health and our ability to work is a gift from God. He is the giver of life and health; of our talents and our work. All these things are a gift from him. I had taken for granted the ability to move and work and to have occupation for each day; it no longer seemed to matter what that work was. (As to making a valuable contribution…boy my family quickly realised how much work I actually do every day.)

Thirdly, I began to think differently about what it means to be valued. So often we define ourselves by the things we do; the way we contribute. It is easy to feel valued and important when you feel like you’re contributing to the community. You feel needed. But the danger is, you then attach your self worth and value to the things you do. You define yourself by your capabilities. There is something deeply entrenched in our psyche that says who we are is what we do. This way of thinking is flawed. Where does that leave you when you’re no longer able to perform the simple tasks you used to do? (For me, at that precise moment I was good for nothing but bed and rest.) Or for those whose lives are completely dependant on others helping them… babies for example? 

I realised I needed to stop seeing myself as a doer, but rather a being. For it’s not about what I do, it’s about who I am. I believe that I am a child of God; made in his image and precious to him, therefore I am valued. My life has meaning because God gives it meaning. My family doesn’t love me because I make sure they’re well fed and wearing clean clothes everyday, (though they’re very grateful for it) they love me because I’m me. 

It’s funny how sometimes one needs a major life pause to bring some clarity. But I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned while flat on my back.