Not to sound dramatic, but this week I’m redefining normal life after a three-month sabbatical. A big deal, right? I have that first-day-of-school thrill, and I’m celebrating.
I love the sound of new plans hatching.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of cracking, buzzing, vibrating, and popping, because last week my back went berserk, and I won a series of trips to the chiropractor. So, in the midst of my quest for a new structure to my days, I’m literally hooked up to a spine-stretching apparatus.
I’m a sucker for a metaphor, so here’s everything my chiropractor is teaching me about re-entering my post-sabbatical life.
1. Pain is a wakeup, not a waste.
Aches don’t appear without reason. They’re telling you something, maybe something big. My doctor showed me an x-ray of my spine, which is ambling off on its own. There’s something about facing that, the dotted line of where my center is meant to be, compared with where it’s drifted. Time for some rearrangement.
As far as my sabbatical goes, I learned that I have to stop doing the right things in the wrong ways. This spring I had an exhaustion-based meltdown. It cut through my illusions about how I’m made and how I’m meant to work. That pain guards me from making the same choices again.
2. Get the central thing central.
Obviously my wandering spine needs to line up more or less with that dotted line.
For my work and life, this means a massive shift in my good-Christian-girl mentality. I used to think that, as a Christian writer, it was my job to make plans for my projects, request God’s input, and head for my goals. (Which nearly made me insane.)
The sabbatical flipped that equation. Now I’m convinced that it’s up to God to make the plans. Kind of old-fashioned, in a pillar-of-fire-by-night way, but it’s the only method that makes sense anymore. As I wait on Him and rest in Him, He shows me where I need to go. All I have to do is respond to His direction. (Guess how much I miss my former anxiety.)
All this means…
3. It’s actually not about my goals.
I asked my chiropractor if he could just punch me in the back so I’d be fine again. One pop and I’d be good. In other words: Stop the pain, so I can get back to work.
But his goals are different. (Weird, right?) He actually wants to get my spine in place again, and for this one rib to go back where it belongs. A bigger plan, and more based in reality than mine.
In sabbatical and summer-minded terms, I’m making room to hear more of God’s voice. To be centered on Him means listening to Him, right? I’m looking to submit to His plans and His perfect timing. Because His goals are different from mine.
One of the many side-effects of this kind of thinking is an anxiety-free heart. Think about that for a second. No more worrying. Because I’m not the kid running the show anymore. I’m not a spine trying to find her own way in the universe, with aftershocks of pain rumbling through the body.
4. Nothing works like immersion.
Getting my bones in place calls for therapy: A belt pulls on my hips to stretch my spine, while electric pads buzz under my lungs, and a vibrating roller-bar moves from my neck to my butt. All of this is followed by a cracking-and-twisting session of spinal realignment.
It isn’t comfortable, this process of getting things back in order.
“You’re going to be taller,” says the assistant, as she hooks the belt around my waist and up to a pulley system. The whole process feels faintly ominous, so I close my eyes and focus on breathing and not on medieval torture devices.
But as I relax into it, the mix of sensations becomes oddly soothing. I think of my spine letting go of its wanderlust ideas and settling back to where it’s meant to be.
What does it take, to embrace the shape of this life? With a solid center, where do the other pieces fit? How can I envelop myself in a new way of thinking and doing?
5. Give grace as you learn new habits.
Apparently bones need time to move, and the body practices accepting that. As for me, I never learn anything on the first try: I practice knowing it, practice unlearning the bad habits, practice holding the good ones.
A lot of once-automatic processes now require deliberate thinking. I move and work more slowly, and I’m paying more attention to how I talk to myself, how I approach writing, the way I’m praying.
In the physical sense, I’m relearning how to get out of bed, how to stand, how to pick things up. I’m not good at it yet, as a dull pain under my ribs tells me, with an echoing pinch under my shoulder blades. So there’s grace, and there’s patience. Processes take time as they (literally) shape us.
6. Stay focused on what you’re aiming for.
I have this constant awareness of my skeleton sitting inside me, grinning in spite of its crookedy spine. Hey there skeleton, I think, as I feel that stitch on my middle right side. Hey there, ribs. We’re gonna get you figured out.
No more rebellious, wandering bones. I’m grateful that my doctor can see what we’re working toward: all my puzzle pieces in their proper places.
In my work and life, I’m looking for that same settledness, as the major parts of my days find their positions, and everything else falls out as it should. I’m finding my way to contentment, to a pure and rested peace, from my heart down to my very bones.
Jenn Langefeld graduated from Calvin in 2006 and charged into a life of full-time novel writing. She is currently working on an exuberant, adventurous trilogy for middle grade readers. She writes under her great-grandmother’s name, Lucy Flint, and blogs about making a lionhearted writing life at lucyflint.com.