Over the past few months, I've become a believer in chiropractic care. I had always been a bit skeptical in the past, but after a second episode of back pain that made me nearly unable to move, I was desperate enough to give it a try. Pain has a way of motivating us to try things we wouldn't have done without it. In addition to recovering without having to take a single drug and seeing my chiropractor often enough to enjoy getting to know him, I've also seen some parallels between being his patient and my life with God.
First, the Pain Factor: I never would have gone for help without it. Even if the pain hadn't been as bad as it was, I would have gone on putting up with it rather than trying to figure out how to get better.
I've studied the Christian life quite a bit, but even with head knowledge, I find that I don't open myself up to God's grace in the ways I've studied until some level of desperation drives me to do so. Ruth Haley Barton writes about this quite a bit. In her excellent book, [amazon_link id="0830835458" target="_blank" ]Invitation to Solitude and Silence,[/amazon_link] she tells how desperation drove her into experimenting with these practices. She says, "As strange as it may sound, desperation is a really good thing in the spiritual life. Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we are looking for. Desperate ones seek with an all-conuming intensity, for they know that their life depends on it." (p. 30)
The Fear of Death Factor: Having never done anything like it before, it was a bit intimidating on the first couple of visits to let another person manipulate my spine. I've seen way too many episodes of 24 to be able to avoid thinking that this guy could kill me at any moment he wanted to.
Once desperation drives us to open ourselves to God, some of the best guidance we may receive can feel pretty intimidating. We're being asked to do what? To give up what? Sometimes this is intense and other times not, but there's a real sense in which parts of who we used to be are being put to death as we learn to put ourselves in God's hands, and it feels fearful to give that much control over to anyone else. These are the points at which things we are often quick to claim to believe about God are tested. Is God really loving? Is God really all-good? Is there really nothing bad about God? Is God really trustworthy? Can I say as Jesus did, even while hanging on the cross, the words from Psalm 31: "Into your hands I commit my spirit?"
In these moments, we have to remember the desperation that drove us to seek help in the first place, realizing that we cannot continue to get well if we don't entrust our lives into the other's hands.
The Cooperation Factor: From the initial visits to my chiropractor, he's given me exercises to do at home between visits. Ideally, these practices at home would work together with the adjustments he gives me during my visits and enable me not only to continue avoiding my previous pain level, but also to actually recover and live better. My track record of doing the exercises stinks. The reason is pretty simple: Most of the time, I feel good enough without doing them. The work that he does for me when I have an appointment is enough to keep the severe pain away. When I'm like this, I'm leaving the health of my back totally up to him.
I may hit a nerve with this one; at least it's the parallel that has struck the deepest chord with me. How much life are we missing out on when we're content to only show up for our weekly appointment in our lives with God, rather than also actually cooperating with God by doing the practices at home which would allow his work of grace in us to actually become a permanent part of our lives? More specifically, showing up at church is good, and may be enough to keep us from the intense kind of pain that we experienced in life when we were completely ignorant of God. But there are other practices handed down to us that can us, and indeed they're actually essential to our recovery. When we fail to do them (things like prayer, reflecting on the Scriptures, spending time in solitude and silence, fasting, service in secrecy, or many others), we're content to leave the health of our soul completely up to other people.
According to the data from the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey, this is where the largest group of us in churches find ourselves. We desperately need to learn to do the practices and take our infinitesimal share of the responsibility for the quality of our lives with God. I'm sure that Jesus did not intend to say, "I have come so that they may have life- life that's good enough." No, he clearly wanted to convey an abundance of life that, through him, is available to us. But it requires our cooperation.
I write this sitting at my computer, which according to my chiropractor, may be the main culprit for my back pain. And I write it not having done my stretches or exercises for weeks. So I'd better quit writing before my back starts hurting. It's yet to be seen whether I take some responsibility for how it feels or just wait, again, until my next appointment...