My mom had major back surgery last week. By the time this is posted it will have been two weeks ago. The day after she had surgery, I was in BodyPump Express class here at the Y, the Wednesday afternoon time with Natalie (highly recommend, btw).
The juxtaposition I found myself in was difficult – I can’t explain it really. I felt angry, sad, guilty, driven, hopeless and compelled all at the same time. The juxtaposition was this: me feeling strong, empowered, capable, solid, limitless and just overall GOOD – the kind of good you can only get from an intense yet satisfying workout. At the very same time my mom (only 22 years my senior) was dependent, frail, weak, limited, in pain and exhausted from having this major surgery less than 24 hours prior. I feel this surgery is the reluctantly inevitability of two years of extremely poor health and a manifestation of over 20 years of neglect - but not an active neglect. Rather, a neglect born out of necessity. Necessity to take care of others, to prove worthy, to show strong, to be capable in career pursuits, to raise children, to be a good neighbor, to work on relationships, to give of herself, to make up for past failures, to atone for perpetual mistakes, to make right.
Good health is a gift, no doubt. It’s also a responsibility. Unfortunately it can be seen as a renewable resource that is paid attention to only when it’s dwindling, or lacking. We pursue so many things that are noble, honorable, worthy and helpful for so many. Sometimes at the expense of our health. Maybe this is the case with my mom.
A common farewell greeting after chatting with someone is “take care”. Have you ever thought about what this is communicating? Thought about what this actually is saying to someone? To take care is to spend time on personal well-being. To take care is to recognize limitations, but not to be defined by them. To take care is to ensure you won’t fall victim to passive neglect by actively prioritizing self-care, by the grace of Our Savior Jesus and for His glory.
When you tell someone to take care, you’re permitting them to put their health first, to be intentional about their personal well-being. Take care does not mean, “spend more time exercising”. It is SO much more than spending 30 minutes a day on a bike, or lifting weights, or attending group exercise class. Exercise is a crucial piece to good health, to taking care, but it is not the defining component. Exercise helps, absolutely, but it will not rewrite your life’s chapters as healthy by itself. It’s only one ingredient.
1 Corinthians 8:1b says “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up”.
Knowledge alone won’t help our health. There is not a lack of knowledge or information about how to be healthy. Health and fitness information is literally everywhere and can be found anywhere. All this knowledge does, Paul says here, is “puff us up”. I know I have been guilty of this. As recently as that day after my mom had her surgery. I tried to retain everything the doctor said about her surgery and the aftermath. I felt full of knowledge about what would be required on her part and us (her family) post-surgery. I got so consumed by the years and years of circumstances, decisions and choices made that led to this moment – this place that seemed like a last resort. That the best solution for my mom was to have a surgeon literally slice open her back and fuse 10 vertebrae together! I was resentful. Certainly “puffed up” about the fact that I didn’t make those same choices. I didn’t have those same set of circumstances and therefore wouldn’t have the same outcome.
Nothing about that is God-breathed. Nothing about my health and fitness attitude was sanctifying or glorifying to my Savior Jesus. Nothing about my ability to crush that BodyPump Express class and feel so satisfyingly spent was “taking care” of myself or was helpful to take care of my mom.
“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up”.
My dad has been a constant presence. A reliability in my life. The love of my life, until I met my husband. He’s a man that literally has given the shirt off his back to someone who needed it. He has also been such an excellent example to me about the second part of this passage, “love builds up”. As awful as it is to see my mom in this state, to feel this juxtaposition, I am grateful that it allows me to see my dad demonstrate love in a way that knocks me on my knees every single time.
For him “taking care” used to be running 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes – but only one way. He never looped. Instead he’d tell us to come pick him up in 30 minutes. “Just drive down SSS until you find me. Don’t be late!”.
Taking care used to be playing baseball every weekend, and then playing softball on the “over-30” league.
Taking care used to be playing basketball on some Sunday mornings in Campbellsport, and coaching a men’s basketball league in Dotyville, WI. This tiny little one-horse town that could draw in the crowds for these games! I loved watching my dad coach. He was respected. He was listened to. He was loved.
Taking care used to mean playing golf in a golf league and allowing me and at least one other sibling to tag along to caddy or wash his golf balls in those little ball-washer contraptions at the greens.
Now taking care means getting up early, attending to a few things at work, and then heading back home to prepare scrambled eggs for mom.
Now taking care means attending Bible study every Saturday morning, religiously.
Now taking care means riding a bike on a trail or sometimes in the basement, when his knees allow.
Now taking care means drinking more water than soda.
Now taking care means cleaning the house, packing mom’s things to bring to the hospital, driving mom to her appointments and helping her to the bathroom.
Now taking care means opening up the Bible to Romans 8:28 (because it’s mom’s birthday verse) and reading it in the hospital surgical waiting room.
Now taking care means leaving a step ladder in his truck because mom can’t have her knees get higher than her hips and his truck has quite the step up.
Love builds up.
Whatever you think about your health, whatever exercise plan, nutrition plan, supplement regime, or doctor’s orders you are knowledgeable about, don’t let that knowledge puff you up, like I did. Don’t think you’re better than the next person because you know better and are doing better, and have better health as a consequence. This is certainly not taking care of yourself or those around you. Instead LOVE. Without expectations or standards or clauses.
Both with yourself and with those whom God has placed in your life.
I saw this quote today and was convicted, but also CHARGED with a new attitude: “Yesterday I was clever and wanted to change the world. Today I am wise and am changing me”.
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