I hesitate to say this out loud and jinx myself so–knock on wood, or stucco, or whatever’s handy but–i have not been sick in over a year. Not even a cold or a 24-hour stomach thing. No sinus infection, which i used to get chronically, no upper-respiratory gunk, nothing. I’m not sure what i’ve done to gain such a run of great good health, other than 1)take my kids out of daycare, 2)yoga and 3)drink lots of green tea. Whatever it is, it’s working and i’m grateful for it.
However–i am unwell in at least one part of my body. And in the sense that the head bone is connected to the…well, pretty much everything, it is a moving part that gives me more than enough trouble all on its own. The jaw.
Like many people who struggle with chronic tmj pain, i’ve learned over the years, that there is no easy fix, and even ‘specialists’ in the field are pretty much making it up as they go along, and/or experimenting on you. I’ve also learned that tmj pain is rooted in the pysical, the emotional, the psychological, not to mention the environmental and intangible factors. In other words–there is no ‘expert’ anywhere who can deal in every one of these areas and create what we would call a ‘cure.’
I have a very fancy ‘cadillac’ of a mattress. I have a dental device. I have x-rays of my head and neck in files all across Kentucky and Arizona. I’ve been to a sleep clinic. I’ve had reiki, massage, chakra work (seriously), and i go on the occasional soft food diet. I have not chewed a piece of gum in about 12 years. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of cranial-sacral therapy, which helps tremendously. (Even if they do tell me to wear bras without underwire, and only flat shoes. ha ha). I’ve tried bedtime ‘guided meditation’ exercises and bio-feedback. I have any number of ways to apply heat to the area. Oh, and i have a red rubber ball that i lay on to apply pressure to various tight muscle areas.
This particular malady is not quite an illness and not quite an injury; the flare-ups can be triggered by any number of things, from emotional stress to a bad pillow to an over-cooked steak. Which means, there are a million little things you can do to treat the symptoms, but nobody seems to know how to treat the issue itself. (Which, by the by, means that few of the available treatments are covered by insurance. Another discussion!) Bottom line is, there’s no easy answer.
I do not mean to whine. Like i said, i’m in overall excellent health. But from a spiritual/theological perspective, my most recent frustrations are making me wonder–in how many other ways do we try to address the symptoms, without getting to the place that is broken?
I can think of many manifestations of ‘jaw pain’–a brokenness that begins with the head and is thus connected to every other part of the body–manifest in the world around us. It goes without saying–healthcare! In how many ways does our current model encourage the patient to take a pill, seek an unneccessary surgery, or simply live with the pain, without devoting the time and energy it takes to treat a whole person?Education–a system in which standardized testing, and the resulting number scores on paper, have become much more important than the students themsevles, much less those who teach them. Politics–we go with the guy (or every now and then, the girl) who says what we want to hear, and whose ideologies align with our own, rarely looking at the ‘whole body’ of what they do while in office. Rarely noticing (or caring) how their decisions affect people who aren’t us.
The environment. Where we get our food. Where we shop and fuel our vehicles. Where and how we build communities. Everywhere we look, the world invites us to treat a symptom, or create an aesthetic, without regard for the whole body of human life or the long-term consequences of our actions.
I’ve had many a dentist tell me that braces are the answer! Braces that will cost thousands of dollars and be painful and bring you back into this office at least once every few weeks for the next several years of your life.
Of course, I also had a dentist tell me that braces caused all this mess. Because my childhood orthodontist (in whose office i spent exactly 9 years of my life) was focused on the outward result of aligning my teeth, without looking at the big-picture of my still-growing body.
I’d believe it. Because really, isn’t that how we roll? All of us?
In my ministry life today, I am trying to help a family in need. And by ‘in need,’ i mean, in desperate, all-consuming need. They need medical attention. They need counseling. They need housing and food and reliable transport and education and security. They need the support of a community and they need, yes, the love of Jesus Christ. It is utterly overwhelming. For me. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in their own bodies and heads.
I don’t need a dentist, or a psychologist to tell me that this, right here, is what i carry around in the joint of my skull, which is connected to every other ache in my body. This sense of helplessness in the face of the world’s great need. I will gladly carry that ache if it means, even one time, that I can be a part of changing someone’s life.
But my bigger questions is–what are we missing, Church? How often to we treat the symptoms, but not the illness? Do we give people prayer when they need food? Do we give them just food when they need community? Do we give them sympathy when they need compassion and empowerment?
Do we give a tylenol when they need a whole body realignment?
Yes. We know we do. Again and again and again, we offer easy answers and quick fixes in the face of the greatest human brokenness imagineable.
We cannot save the world from itself. We cannot carry every burden and bear every injury, for what good would we be to anyone? And yet…maybe we can do a little bit better working as the whole body of Christ, bearing witness to the wholeness of creation. Maybe, beginning with the care of our very own selves, we can look a little more deeply at the fullness of life, and hold it with according reverence and gratitude.
Once we’ve done that–learned to treat our own frail bodies as the blessed temples that they are–maybe then we can build our communities to reflect that same fullness of God’s love and mercy at the table. While we cannot cure the world of its every ill, by the grace of God, we can surely, surely do better than a Tylenol. For the one who has born our every pain and burden, we can surely do better.