Confession. I wrote this a month ago and was too proud and embarrassed to publish.
So, I moved to Taiwan last month.
After a summer of silence, I thought it best to cut to the chase and give the most important update first. In the space of a week, the hubby and I interviewed for positions at an international school here, were offered jobs, packed up our entire apartment, and moved to the other side of the world.
You’d think, after such a drastic life change, that my thoughts would be full of international adventures and profound thoughts on adjusting to new cultures and new ways of living. I do have plenty along those lines to share, but at the moment, my thoughts are full of something else.
Right now, I think of pain. More specifically, I think of these words by Emily Dickinson.
PAIN has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has not future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.
The truth is, I can’t recollect a day when pain was not part of my life. It begins in the morning when I wake up–brain-fogged, head already aching, muscles and joints crying out as I steel myself for another day. It continues throughout the day until I collapse into a ball of exhaustion. I go to sleep, vainly hoping that rest will heal my body only to wake up again and face another day of pain.
Periods of busyness and change always increase my pain. Moving to Taiwan is no exception. Right now, I spend the better portion of my day wanting to cry in weariness and frustration. I don’t want to be this way. It’s not a play for attention or an excuse to spend a day relaxing. It never has been, not when the symptoms started in third grade and not now.
You see, I have what can, at best guess, be called chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. In simple terms, it means I’m always tired, no matter how much rest I get, and my body’s pain receptors work overtime.
I don’t write this post as a plea for sympathy. In fact, I’d rather not talk about it. I know hitting publish when I’m finished will take a great deal of bravery. I don’t want to have to admit that I’m sick and have been for the better part of 18 years. If I don’t tell you, then I don’t have to admit it to myself.
Truth is, I’m ashamed of my pain. Being tired all the time means, in my mind, that I’m weak, lazy, and incompetent. I’m embarrassed to admit that I slept till noon today and then spent the day in bed. At heart, I’m a busy bee morning person. I love getting up before dawn. I’d rather be able to say I conquered the world, or at least my small corner of it, before lunch.
I know the reactions that come when I admit my weaknesses. There’s misunderstanding, confusion. People talk about times they’ve been tired after staying out dancing or pulling an all-nighter. Other people assume I’m a hypochondriac and my condition could be cured with a good night’s rest and an aspirin.
Of course, these are only some of the reactions. Many other people, are sympathetic and try to understand. But even that reaction bothers me. Their opinion of me changes. Their sympathy makes me uncomfortable. They try to understand but are reacting to a mysterious condition with no obvious physical signs or clearcut causes. It’s not a lost limb or a cancer. It’s just constant pain and tiredness for no apparent reason.
I hold nothing against anyone. I get that my weakness is a confusing one. Plus, the truth is, it’s nothing compared to amputation or cancer. And really, it’s not anyone’s business. Why do people need to know? As a northerner, I keep personal information about myself on a need-to-know-basis. This is no exception.
Why then, am I talking now? There are a couple reasons. For starters, I suppose it’s cathartic. I’m tired of being ashamed of my weakness. I don’t want to complain it from the rooftops, but I don’t want to be embarrassed either. Second, I think one of the most important things about personal painful experiences is the lessons they teach us. Some good things are best when shared. Life lessons are one of those things.
Today, I’ve been thinking about Paul’s words in Corinthians. He’s talking about his thorn in the flesh, his physical weakness: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
I used to think that God’s strength being made perfect in my weakness meant that I would somehow be made perfect, not that the weakness would disappear but that I would have supernatural physical strength to achieve great things. Of course, for some people it might mean that, but I took this as a challenge of sorts. I would work multiple jobs, take on heavy course loads at college, and forego sleep because I thought I had to. I thought I had to be not “just like everyone else” but that I had to be better than everyone else. I had to be perfect.
Paul says God allowed his thorn in the flesh to keep him from being proud. I guess that might be why God allowed mine as well. It reminds me that I’m not perfect. I can’t do everything. Even if I were healthy, I couldn’t do everything. My weakness just helps remind me how much I owe God.
Of course, sometimes, I try to use my weakness as a secret badge of honor. I think, “Look how much I achieved while being in so much pain!” Thinking this way makes me feel better about being different, being weaker. It’s always then, though, that I either collapse in exhaustion or God shows me someone who’s weaker than I am but has done so much more than me.
The Christian life isn’t about being perfect or about comparing trials and tribulations like scars from the battlefield. It’s about our own relationship with Christ and how that relationship showcases Christ to the world. God’s strength being made perfect in weakness doesn’t mean that, because I have Christ, I will have the strength to do wonders. It means that I let my weakness teach me how much I need Christ. I am nothing without Christ, just a self-obsessed girl trying to find meaning in her own inner ramblings. God wants me to glory in my weakness not because it makes me great but because it keeps me humble and lets him shine bright.
With Christ, though, I can let go. I can let go of the need to be perfect. I can let go of the desire to be normal. I can let go of it all. I am sick. That’s ok. I am tired. That’s ok. I am in pain. That’s ok. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s nothing to be proud of, either.
I’m not perfect on the outside or the inside. I have nothing left to prove, nothing left of myself to give. That’s ok. I have Christ. When I stop being ashamed or proud and just let myself be weak, my artifices and facades can slip away. When I am weak, he can be strong.
I started this blog to write about finding beauty in imperfection. I used my freckles as an example of that quest. Since moving to Taiwan, my freckles have been getting even more attention. My kids always want to know why I have so many dots on me. I don’t think they find them beautiful. They find them strange. I could let that bother me, but it’s ok. I’ve let go. I don’t need to have perfect looks anymore. I’m content.
I’m only now just learning, though, how to be content with my physical weakness. Being weaker and tireder than others isn’t so ok with me. I’ve been the weird one in looks and personality as long as I’ve been the one with the weird physical weakness. I’m ok with the first two weirdnesses, but I’m still holding onto that last one.
I think it’s time that stopped. I’ve actually always been able to find beauty in my pain. I’ve just too often let my shame or pride alternately drown the beauty out. It’s time to let go. God’s strength, not mine, is made perfect in my weakness. Because of my pain, I’m drawing closer to Christ. I think that’s the most beautiful thing of all.