I can’t remember when it began, but for the past few years, a constant pain has hugged my lower back. It was enough to wake me up at night. I tried Advil. I tried stretching. I started a new workout regimen to strengthen my core. I told our children I couldn’t pick them up or let them sit on my lap.
With each solution, the pain faded, only to come back in a few days or weeks. Eventually it crept down to my tailbone. I had to modify the way I stood up and could only sit on cushioned chairs. Still, the pain persisted.
And then one morning, it went away, never to return.
I wish I could say healing came because I called upon the Lord. But for whatever faulty reasoning or theological neglect on my part, reaching out to Jesus to heal my minor-but-persistent back pain didn’t cross my mind. I had, though, called on a physical therapist and yoga teacher for help. We sat cross-legged, facing each other, even though sitting like that hurt my back. Instead of stretching or moving through postures, we talked.
I told her about the creeping pain in my lower back and tailbone. She nodded, as if this came as no surprise, especially when I mentioned that I kept trying different solutions and nothing helped. I also talked about my newest hypothesis—that the pain was a result of my exercise regime, a result of overworked or imbalanced musculature.
“Any time someone talks to me about balance,” she said, “I think the work of healing needs to begin in the mind.” I didn’t fully register what she said. My own thoughts poured out, a list of discord: the tension between being a supportive wife and a woman trying to establish her own career, the conflict over being a mother and making time for myself, the struggle to accept my work as valuable even when it didn’t meet with commercial recognition or success, the spiritual battle over wanting to support my husband’s vocation and resenting what that support took. Over the course of that hour, I didn’t move. I didn’t pray. But when I finished talking, the pain was gone.
The next few days only highlighted all the ways I had let the pain constrain me. I noticed all the times I didn’t groan while reaching for a toy, didn’t wince when standing up, didn’t cringe at my children’s squirmy entrance into my lap. I marveled at feeling whole. Now, nearly three months later, I remain pain-free, and grateful.
But I am still trying to make sense of it. On the one hand, I believe Jesus is the Great Physician, the source of all healing, whether that healing comes in a doctor’s office, through a healing prayer session, or in a conversation with a yoga teacher. Like the man who simply shrugged when questioned—“I was blind. Now I see” (John 9)—I feel unable to explain the mechanism or the theology of it all. I was in pain. Now I am not.
Still, I try. The therapist herself offered a couple explanations. One, as Lorimer Mosley discusses in his TEDx talk, my brain anticipated pain even when the source of the pain was gone. Once I was able to tell myself that I didn’t need to feel pain, the circuitry connecting my body and brain hit reset. But she also said the lower back is a center for our support and self-acceptance. It made sense that our physical selves would register emotional distress, that our bodies would almost serve as symbols of less tangible but equally real truths.
Just as Jesus conveyed truth through bread and wine, through eyes that see and ears that hear, perhaps God reveals spiritual and emotional pain through our bodies. After our conversation, every time I felt a twinge of discomfort in those areas, I repeated to myself, “I am accepted. I am supported.” And every time, the pain dissipated.
But it seemed like a trick. If I still felt discontent in the midst of my mother-wife-writer-leader-speaker roles, shouldn’t I still be in pain? Again, my thoughts turned to narratives from the Gospels, where Jesus’ healing was never conditional upon behavior. Not only had I experienced healing, I had also experienced grace, a gift freely given.
It made me consider the Holy Spirit’s role in healing. If God has made each of us as beings in his image—mind, body, and spirit—then perhaps it is God’s Spirit who knits what can seem like disparate parts of ourselves together. One of the Spirit’s roles is that of connection, of mending, of binding up and setting free. Certainly this role becomes evident when orphans gain parents, when wars cease. But perhaps it also plays itself out within our very selves, whenever the mind connects to the body; whenever our spirit acknowledges God’s Spirit; whenever mind, body, and spirit experience integrated grace.
I think of the story in Mark 5, when Jesus frees the Geresene man from a demon, and the man regains his physical wholeness and his community. Or of the time in Luke 5 when the paralyzed man’s healing takes second place to his forgiveness. Forgiveness, salvation, healing—they are all interconnected for Jesus. Even the word used in Greek to name Jesus as Savior is soter. My Greek dictionary of the New Testament tells me it means: “save, rescue, deliver; keep safe, preserve; cure, make well.” Salvation and healing are not quite one and the same, but they are closely related in God’s way of seeing the world. Physical healing therefore may hold a lesson for us about spiritual healing, receiving forgiveness, and God’s desire to make us whole.
I finally started to believe the healing I experienced was all of the above. Yes, a rewiring of neural processes that needed a reminder I was no longer in physical danger. Yes, a spiritual experience that needed reinforcement of the truth of God’s support and acceptance of who I am as I am (and because he is the great I Am!). Yes—and more than anything else—a free gift.