The pain awakened me. My feet were throbbing, and the ache reached up to the back of my knees. I lay still trying to figure this out, then realized as I readjusted my body that my back, neck and head hurt too. I remembered swimming in Nantucket Sound a few days earlier. God am I that old? I sighed and lifted my pounding head from the pillow, slid out of bed, and limped into the bathroom. I can find the Tylenol and open the child-proof cap without even being conscious.
It wasn’t until that evening, when my clothes felt like they were on fire that I realized I was sick, not just sore. Then the shaking chills. I fumbled around for a thermometer. 101.7. I gulped some more Tylenol and went to bed. It was a restless night but I awoke free from fever, although not from the pain. I called my doctor.
“Hold on,” the secretary said flatly after hearing my story, punctuated by, I have never had a fever that high! for dramatic effect. When she came back on the line she said, “The doctor said, ‘You’re a nurse. You know if you’re sick.'”
I do? This was my first thought. Because historically I am pathetically unaware of my physical well-being, until my body just drops and quits. I’m a great nurse for you but like most nurses, detached from the signals and sirens going off inside my own body.
Someone had to tell me when I was pregnant, when I was turning yellow from eating bad shellfish, when I should consider that I might have a concussion. I don’t like to spend time inside of myself. It just never seems beneficial.
There’s a plus side to my ignorance. My husband marvels at my ability to deflect “vain imaginations,” my resilience under pressure and a forward drive that prevents a morbid preoccupation with inward scrutiny. I stunk at meditating in the 70’s. At a yoga class I took a few years ago, I started giggling then had to leave when the instructor told us to be “mindful.” It sounded like Dali Lama meets Miss Manners.
But there’s also the flip side. A lack of self-awareness can lead to self-deception; perhaps nothing evil or even un-Godly, but I can easily slide into my old comfy self-reliant shoes – the ones with well-worn scriptures and broken-in prayers.
Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.” Luke 16:15
Yikes! Detestable? Let me look at another translation… how about “abominable?”
I recovered from my sickness of unknown origin after six days and felt like I was coming out of general anesthesia. I had lost time, so my natural course of action was to catch-up and get busy. Then one morning early in prayer, I heard God speak to me very clearly. He said this:
“Don’t take Me lightly.”
It startled me – it was a warning, just short of a rebuke, and I knew I had to spend some time looking inside, and at how the inside was manifesting outside. I had to take my spiritual temperature.
Charles Finney wrote in the 1850’s about negative morality – how Christians are inclined to settle for just being good people. We don’t curse, don’t smoke, don’t hurt others. We are nice Christians, assimilating into the mainstream of life, but if we are just good, not sanctified, we stink like last week’s garbage. We become hollow trophies, relics of dead religion and social injustice programs – applauded by mankind and the devil. Detestable to God.
What was my remedy? Repentance first. I had been “esteeming the things of God lightly” – foremost, my relationship with Him. I had been rushed, distracted, malnourished from “lite” prayer, lazy grazing in His word, genuflecting before His throne room of grace. I felt ashamed. My temperature was lukewarm at best, but in the public eye I spoke eloquently, laughed easily and even loved well. But was it His love, or mine? Could I have loved if they hated me or my Jesus? Or if I speak Truth, not just what someone wanted to hear? Can I rejoice in suffering, when what I think is rightly mine, is taken by a just and sovereign God? I knew all this, but I had begun to take it lightly. We are pulled from the flames of hell, redeemed and set free by a brutal death on a cross and clothed in heavenly righteousness. How can I ever take that lightly? A Love far greater than anything I could return? Yet I was treading softly down the well-worn path of neutral Christianity.
My worship was indeed sick; not dying or dead but just sick enough to make me useless, just like the fever that haunted me for six days, wearing me out, weakening my reserve. I still functioned, but I was hollow and ineffective. Salt without saltiness, a flame without warmth.
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…” ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
I thank God for His warning, that He loves us enough to say, “STOP!” Since that day, I’ve noticed all the places where I can worship Him “in spirit and in truth,” not just in lip-service and the “dont’s”. At work, when a patient’s call light is on again, at home, when my husband who never asks needs to know how much I love him, or looking at the night sky studded with every star my God has named. Funny – once I started looking for places to worship Him, my joy returned. Playing the piano, walking the dog, talking to Jesus before I close my eyes at night. I feel renewed, and so very loved. Thanks, Lord, for pulling me back in, close to You.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. Psalm 63:3-7