For years now, the tendons of my foot have been shortening, pulling my bones out of shape, and making my foot look like this:
Well, nearly anyway. If my foot were a hand, that's what it would have looked like. I put up with it for about 5 years, adjusting my gait; succumbing to orthotics, and putting off the one thing that would fix the problem: surgery. Last summer, I bought ugly shoes, because they don’t make cute shoes to fit a foot like that. I hurt all the time. So finally, I gave in: this week, I had surgery. Here’s what my foot looks like now:
Like a large-ish Q-tip wearing a nightcap, askew on the end of my leg. Somewhere inside there though, healing is going on. I can tell, because it tingles and itches, and hurts. Something’s happening under all that gauze.
Still, can we go back to the part where it hurts? From time to time, I find myself irritable, and on the verge of tears; certain that nobody loves me, that all the world has abandoned me, and there is no hope that my dreary life will ever look any more hopeful than it does right now. That’s when my nursing common sense kicks in. I think, Oh, I know what’s going on! And I elevate my foot, swallow a couple of pain pills, cover up with a blanket, and settle in for a nap. When I wake up, my foot feels better. I am surrounded, once again, with people who love and care for me. Life is good and getting better all the time.
We all need a little objectivity in our lives: someone, even ourselves maybe, who can say, “That’s not the problem; This is the problem.” One recurring issue I have that masquerades as a different issue has to do with my mouth: my tendency to talk and say too much when my words do nothing but steal value from the conversation. I’m opinionated. It’s de rigueur in America today to be an opinionated woman, so here’s me, I guess, on the cutting edge, just like everybody else.
Opinions can be like caviar, I think. Once, a friend had us over for a meal and served us salmon roe. Now, caviar is not caviar is not caviar: in other words, there are different kinds and grades and qualities. The really good, most expensive varieties are usually black or grey, just a bit salty, and not at all fishy-tasting. (We Americans don’t like our fish to taste like fish: have you noticed that?) But the caviar this friend gave us was not like that. He came from a culture where to eat dried, salted fish as a snack with beer is a big treat. Where fish products should taste like fish. So our host opened a can of big, orange roe beads, and offered me a mouthful, right off the spoon. I accepted. I chewed. I swallowed. Each egg gave under my teeth with a gruesome little “pop,” flooding my mouth with essence of oily, raw salmon. I’ve never needed to gag so badly in my life.
However, since living abroad, I’ve always felt that one can gauge one’s cultural sensitivity by the way in which one handles unpleasant things that wind up in the mouth. Do you spit it out at once, make a face, and pronounce, “Gross!” Do you smile, and swallow, stuff in a piece of bread, and hurriedly chase it with a lot of whatever is in your cup? When more is offered, do you accept it? In this case, I chose the swallow/smile/stuff/chase method, but steadfastly declined any further fish eggs. The men happily scraped the container clean as I watched and tried not to shudder.
This is what opinions have in common with caviar: They both come in all grades: some are more worth indulging in than others. Both are best appreciated when used sparingly and served as a garnish: caviar to food, and opinions to really good conversation. There is a proverb that says, “A person of wisdom uses words with restraint, but a fool delights in airing his own opinions.” When I vomit out my own point of view—and usually, it’s about as sweet-smelling and appetizing as vomit—I almost always regret it. This usually happens when I’m talking to co-workers about dissatisfaction with work conditions, or to other Christians about “Church-ianity”—my sister’s word for that saccharine church culture that we substitute for true Christlikeness. I have a lot to puke forth on those subjects. You don’t want to get me started. Because when I do, the air around me begins to smell distinctly sour, and I am apt to walk away with the taste of regret in my mouth.
There’s another proverb that says “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” I hear my own mouth running, and I think that’s the problem. But just as my irritability and self-pity around my foot clue me in that it’s time for a pain pill and a nap, the real issue with my verbal vomit lies deeper. It is a problem of my heart. I complain about my job and the state of the Church and the quirks of other people because of any number of reasons: because I lack gratitude and patience and real love and sometimes fundamental kindness. But even those things are not the real disease: they are just symptoms. The real real problem is that in spite of all the things I think I know and believe, at the root, I really think that God is not enough. That he does not—cannot—love me the way the Bible says he does, therefore, it is up to me to make myself important. That he will not come through with everything I need, therefore, I must snatch the things I want. That he does not see me; will forget me unless I demand my rights; make myself heard.
What is the remedy for such a malady? It cannot be to just to prescribe more self-control: clamp your lips shut and you’ll have nothing to regret. Certainly, there’s a place for that, in the short run. An ounce of silence now is worth a pound of damage control later on. But like my foot, the problem lies bone-deep. Deeper even: it runs soul-deep. In order to fix the pain and deformity of my foot, a scalpel and saws and other extreme measures were called for. What will heal a crisis of faith that evidences itself in bitter words, acts of self-preservation, a judgmental spirit?
Two more maxims come to mind: “Faith comes by hearing the word of God.” And the second: “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s word, which tells us the truth about God and about ourselves, is the medicine. It is the only cure, among the many I have tried, that really works. I am the first to admit I don’t always like the way it tastes, but that is no reason to shy away from it. I don’t like the way my foot feels after surgery, but I want to walk comfortably. I want to wear nice shoes again. Healing—of the bones, of the soul—takes time. It is uncomfortable and tries the patience. But being whole, walking straight, and being a person of grace whose words give life rather than sapping it are the reason we go to the Healer in the first place.