It’s been about three weeks since my hernia surgery. The procedure went well, but my pain management and withdraw was an issue. I had a hernia repaired last year on my left side and mistakenly compared that experience to what I should expect with this one. Last year, I awoke from surgery to find a catheter running from an apple shaped container directly into the post-op incision. The container dispensed pain killers into the wound. I had no pain for two days. And, because I wasn’t taking any pain pills, I didn’t experience any of the opiate side effects. Once the contents of the dispenser was depleted, I felt the need to have an occasional pill to manage my discomfort. No more than 3 pills in total.
So, I woke up from this surgery also feeling no pain. I was taped up and told that I would be numb for a while. I was reminded of last year’s surgery and how pain-free I felt so soon after surgery. I wasn’t even sleepy. Since I had no pain and since it was all so reminiscent of the past, I just went to bed without any follow-up meds.
The next day I paid the price for getting behind the pain. I woke up unhappy to discover that the pain was bigger than me. (Where is the placebo effect when you need it?)
You probably could have guessed, but I forgot to mention that the surgery happened amidst a myriad of seeming important meetings and classes already scheduled like our Board meeting the night of the surgery, our SpiritGroups small group pilot ministry meeting Wednesday afternoon, two Art & Practice of Living with Nothing and No One Against You workshop sessions on Thursday, and then a new members’ meeting on Sunday. Needless to say, once my pain medicine kicked in, I was no longer available for some of the meetings.
So, my surgery was on Monday afternoon. Tuesday and Wednesday was spent getting back on pain meds. Then, I quit taking the pain pills because I needed to be clear on Thursday as I was beginning two Art & Practice workshops that day. Big mistake. While I was cognitively functional, my sudden halt in meds created a withdrawal reaction that set me back even further than I expected.
The point of my story is about respecting the process of leading a spiritual community while inhabiting an aging body that sometimes competes for a priority focus of attention. We (I) sometimes ignore or under-appreciate the importance of self-care and modeling what it looks like to support our own healing journey, especially as we age in plain view of our congregations.
The majority of our congregation here at Unity Spiritual Center are aging Baby Boomers and Traditionals. Like most communities, we have our share of individuals dealing with health-related challenges. While Jane and I are energetically up and engaged, we are nonetheless susceptible to the litany of aches, pains, and stresses that can sometimes interfere with our modeling spiritual principles as they apply to our health and demonstration of wholeness. Fortunately, there is little to no stigma associated with people and their health challenges here at our center. Consequently, we have an abundance of compassion and empathy for those struggling with their life circumstances.
We endeavor to help people embrace whatever they are having as their life experience, including their health challenges, as an important arena within which to grow spiritually.
When my book The I of the Storm was first published in 2001, my previous wife, Nan, was diagnosed with Stage Four brain cancer. After she read my book, she threw it at me and said, “This is a bunch of shit! How can you write that there is nothing and no one against us when I am dying!” This was indeed a seeming impossible principle for Nan to embrace amidst her diagnosis. But, in time, she was able to get to the place where she could realize that while she had a dying body, she was not her body. She could be in the experience of having a dying body and not be diminished by it. Her example was the most profound demonstration of healing that I have ever witnessed, in spite of the fact that she made her transition fourteen months later.
Our arrival as the new ministers of Unity Spiritual Center was preceded by Rev. David McClure’s battle with brain cancer. As you can imagine, the entire congregation was emotionally linked and entangled in David’s healing journey. He often referred to our congregation as his “twelveth player” on his support team. Fortunately, David is doing so much better having participated in a drug trial that proved successful, the same medication that has help President Jimmy Carter in beating his cancer. We are so blessed to have David and Donna as a part of our community, helping us to model a transformative approach to life.
I think that aging ministers need to be mindful of how their health can impact their congregations, especially in a positive way when there is a real energetic field of compassion as the context within which we engage and address the health and wholeness aspects of our ministerial leadership. Our congregations will watch us as we deal with our personal health challenges. They will be both triggered by our experiences as well as inspired as we include them in our own healing journey. We need to keep in mind that our entire life is grist for the millstone of our personal example.
I am pleased to report that I have recovered completely. I am overwhelmed at the love and support coming from our spiritual community. I am also relieved that the focus can now shift away from me and back onto the effort of getting to the next level.