Feeling bad and feeling bad about myself are closely intertwined feelings for me. I have felt bad physically for a long time. It started with chronic sinus infections about 3 years ago. I took an antibiotic now linked to tendon rupture and developed pain in my feet which turned into severe plantar fasciitis. In the fall of 2010, I finally had sinus surgery. 6 months later (and with the discovery of a dairy allergy) I found long term sinus relief. But the pain in my feet got worse and worse, and with it, my ability to exercise or do much of anything healthy. I’d have short bouts of relief, but the pain would come back in waves. Last fall, we discovered I had some type of inflammatory arthritis which complicated everything (people like me with one autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes also are at a higher risk for developing another autoimmune disease like inflammatory arthritis—apparently, my body just tends to turn on itself). Finally, at the end of January this year, I had surgery on my foot.
Since about a month after the foot surgery, I’ve slowly edged back toward the land of the fully functioning. I walked slowly, then walked a little faster, then jogged a little, then jogged a little more. I bought new running shoes last week. I’m signed up for a 5k in two weeks. I’ve built up to a therapeutic dose of my arthritis medicine (and cut out gluten). I’ve lost a little weight. I’m feeling much better physically. And I feel better about myself.
As I jogged today (just 2.8 miles, walking .8 of that), I thought a lot about why I feel so much better about myself. Why am I so much happier now? I have several friends who are right now smack dab in the middle, or even worse, of what I was physically experiencing just a few months ago, and I hope and pray for them to feel better about themselves in the worst of it than I did!
I want to endure hard times with joy, confident in our future glory in a way that sustains me in the midst of current discouragement. Doesn’t the gospel secure for me that hope?! But ongoing physical discouragement is a rough one to navigate. And the clarity that comes with the relief of feeling better makes me long for a more hopeful gospel-centered reaction when I’m at my worst.
I wish I hadn’t felt bad for every bit of food I ate during that time. But as my endurance got worse and my weight edged up, I daily felt guilt, guilt, guilt for pretty much every bite I ate. I love good food, and I can easily overeat because I savor rich flavors. I certainly could learn more about moderation. But EVERY bite shouldn’t have made me feel guilty. Unless it was a salad or low carb protein, I felt shame for every bit of comfort food I ate. My fear of gluttony didn’t help me eat less. It only served one purpose – to make me feel bad about everything I ate. I really believe there has to be a better way to think about food when you’re in such a season. But when you know you aren’t burning any calories, every bite above mere survival seems excessive.
I also wish I didn’t feel bad for feeling bad. I had legitimate physical problems! No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t go for a walk most days, let alone a run. I tried a rowing machine on the advice of my podiatrist, but eventually my shoulder gave me big problems before I figured out the arthritis issue. When my shoulder gave out, I struggled with a mixture of bitterness and guilt. “Lord, I am TRYING. I know all about gluttony and laziness, and I don’t want to lay around all day. But each time I try to make headway toward better endurance, I just get kicked down again.”
As I think back, it’s so much easier now to extend myself grace for that period of time. I could barely WALK some days. It’s OK that I didn’t exercise and enjoyed a 2nd helping of my favorite meal many days. But society doesn’t project that kind of grace on us (at least not from afar – I certainly received that kind of grace and encouragement from those closest to me).
During these better days, where I’m able to exercise, my clothes aren’t so tight, and I’m generally feeling upbeat over my health, I want to lecture myself in clear terms on the gospel, my health, and my weight. Because I have many friends who are still right in the middle of the worst of their health crises. And also because I know at any time I could enter my own new crisis.
Here’s my lecture.
First, fatigue and laziness are two very different things. Second, enjoying food, even if it’s more than you need to stay alive, is not the same as gluttony. And third, Christian discipline does not demand that we feel bad about ourselves when we simply feel bad physically, even if it’s a long term, ongoing physical ailment that results in gaining weight.
Feeling bad about yourself for things that are not sin issues rarely helps solve anything. Instead, PRAY! Ask God to be clear about what is and what is not a sin problem. Ask for peace so that you can rest when you need to and eat when you need to without guilt. And ask for relief. Cry out to the God who Heals! He may answer quickly, or He may wait a long time. He may wait until heaven. Receive the waiting time as a gift. Don’t view the wait for healing as a holding pattern with no discernible value. I don’t understand it, but I have no doubt that God places some kind of supernatural value on waiting periods. There is BLESSING in the waiting, and it is a miracle. However, I can’t ever remember a time of waiting in my life when I recognized its value WHILE I was waiting. It’s always after the fact that the value makes itself clear to me. I pray in the future I could readily receive the gift of waiting AS I AM WAITING.
Isaiah 30:18 (ESV) 18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Lamentations 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
There’s nothing like feeling bad for a very long time to make you incredibly thankful for feeling good. If you are still in the middle of a season of debilitating physical issues, I encourage you that this season doesn’t define you. If you are IN Christ, God speaks beautiful words over you of your value and His acceptance of you. Do wrestle with God in prayer daily over what if anything He’d have you proactively do. And then REST. Rest mentally and rest physically as you wait for Him to be gracious to you.