The Current and the Resistance
The other day I was trying to get out of bed, still half asleep and uncoordinated, when my hand bumped into the back of my thigh. I thought, "What IS that soft, warm thing? And why is it in my bed with me?"
Pre-coffee brain, but still, I didn't recognize my own flesh. Why? Because it didn't feel strong and lean like my leg feels. Or used to feel.
For the past year or so, I have had a quadriceps tendon injury, and I haven't been able to exercise like I want. I've been to the orthopedic twice, but things still aren't right. It hurts to go up and down stairs, to sit down, and to stand up. I tried to hike in the mountains last week, and a couple of steps I planted were dangerous, because I couldn't trust my own balance.
You might not notice the difference if you looked at me. I have an easy metabolism for a woman my age. But I can tell the difference, because I remember how I was before. I don't like the change. I want to recognize myself; I want to be who I think I am.
It's frustrating that a small wound could lead to inactivity, which folds into a sedentary life that - poof - makes weak middle aged people. One injury causes twenty more, and then life begins to serve the body instead of the body serving the life. People get trapped inside themselves this way. It's quicksand.
I've been thinking about it ever since, and I've realized that this is not just a problem of my physical body. When I look at other aspects of my life, I see a similar atrophy.
Sore places in my soul have discouraged me from moving certain muscles intellectually and spiritually:
"My last church hurt, so I won't get so involved this time."
"I've already tried to work through that issue with that person. It's never going to work between us."
"There's so much I need to read, I can't get going, because it feels overwhelming."
"All politicians are corrupt. I'll just disengage."
"The Bible confuses an hurts me sometimes, so I'm going to avoid it."
That sort of thing. I've favored my injuries here and here and here. Relationally, ecclesiastically, academically, artistically, I've restricted my activity. I've let a flinch discourage me from stretching, from working through exercises of rehabilitation. It's been easier to sit still and pass time and hope somehow the problem just goes away without attention.
Thank God for curious, intelligent friends. I can feed off them some. I can trust them to throw good food to the ducks. I can trust them to pull me up to the top of the water when I'm drowning. They lug me onto the beach and breathe their own air into my lungs.
Still, my brain and heart are growing silly and idle in certain ways. I'm on government cheese, snacking on whatever gibblets and scraps come my way.
The internet is part of my problem. It's so easy to scroll through social media feeds, licking the icing off all hundred e-cupcakes at the party. I take a bite of a provocative headline and chew up a five paragraph post, but it's more work to read a book, and it's more work to dig into real research. It's more work to do the work of listening and asking questions. It's more work to gain truth slowly and deeply. Living not doing that work is easy, but it is making me soft.
I'm not quite sure what the solution is. Most of the world is tumbling along beside me in this passive current, and because I'm a writer, I need to spend time here, because I have to be fluent in the impulses and language of our time. My toolbox is the vernacular. I need agility with clickbait and felt needs.
And it's not just a matter of building a platform. It's a matter of love. Let's say I spend hours writing grand and complicated essays that only fifteen people will ever read. What good does that do? If that is what God's called me to do, it does great good. I could ask for no more than whatever he gives me.
But if I do that out of pride, out of self-centeredness, out of an insular or withdrawn heart, what opportunity have I missed? Jesus came down to earth and told simple stories out of love, even though he knew plenty about microbiology and quantum mechanics. And he told me to go forth into the world and make disciples.
Good writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's covered in sweat road dust. It spits and makes mud. It's plebian.
Still, it's one thing to choose simplicity and another thing to be simple minded. I don't want to get soft because I'm not working out my mind or my heart. I don't want to flinch and avoid, and then write what is easy. I don't want to just chew the cud.
I want to do that work of spending time walking on my own two feet, and then collapsing while I'm carried. I want to dig in hard things, instead of just grazing off whatever my friends drop in my tin cup. I want to go dig underground in the annals of the world, and in the vaults of my hardest truth, and get honest, and get stronger in the difficulty. I want to stop running away from this terrific loneliness and sit in its company and see what it has to teach me. In all of that I want to bring up treasures that do people good, because life is short, and I'm here to give.
Wounds are instructive, but so is physical therapy, and so is intellectual therapy, and so is spiritual therapy. What is my laziness preventing me from doing? How can I refuse to let sore spots make make every choice for me, rejecting Coke-bottle spectacled myopia and a belly full of cultural Doritos? How can I fight for what's waiting to be discovered? How can I live outside the box -- no outside the screen -- aware of what is atrophying in my heart and leaning in instead of away?
I haven't figured it out. I don't want to live in an ivory tower. I don't want to depend on the strength of my own will when I need to learn to rely upon God's resources. But I also know sometimes hard things are worth doing, and that the power of the gospel can become even more clear when we take risks like these. I don't want to just resign. I want to do this work, even when it hurts to stand up from sitting; even when I have to fight myself to get out of bed half an hour earlier to push against the resistance band that pinpoints my weakness to make me stronger.