Yesterday I found out how dependent my body is on caffeine. I gave it up in order to take part in a study that requires my body to be free of it for the weekend, and the day-long headache that ensued felt like punishment for all those mochas and colas I’ve enjoyed this past year. I had things to do – important things – but I was forced to set aside everything that required mental energy in order to just get through.
By the end of the day, I was toast. Unable to function, I went to bed earlier than usual. All I could really do was eek out a few prayers. But how glad I was for those memorized prayers! They required so little thought. A mantra can be a comfort in such times.
By morning, the headache seemed to have dissipated. It was as if my head had been bathed in the prayers I’d requested from others and those I’d sent up myself.
During that time of misery, I was reminded of what physical suffering can feel like, how it limits us. And I remembered the book I’d finished a while back, Never Give Up, which explores suffering. In part because of that book, instead of fighting my headache through the night, at some point I let go and just accepted what was happening to me.
In the book, the author, John Janaro, who has suffered with numerous physical ailments, several chronic, says, “Sometimes I feel like shrinking beneath the covers of my bed. I feel tied to a wall with tight cords from head to foot.” He adds that he often feels as if he’s “a burden to those who are stuck with the obligation of having to be bothered with me.”
I felt that yesterday. I was not all that fun to be around, I’ll admit that right now. And I didn’t like the feeling of bringing others down.
But he goes on to challenge his own thoughts, saying that if his value as a human being were measured by the way he feels, he would find life impossible. He then poses the question of wondering how people live without God, especially given the human condition of suffering. “Why go on dragging yourself around like an old dried-up piece of meat in a world that has no meaning beyond physical vitality?” he asks.
“What amazes me is that people who do not know God do have the energy and desire to go on living,” Janaro continues. “I think the only way to account for this is the fact that there is a God who cares personally for everyone – even those who do not yet know him or who think they have rejected him.”
And there’s more.
“God plants the seeds of hope in every human heart. If there were nothing but this life, then despair would be the logical human position, even for the healthiest of people. Yet the human person has to be driven to despair, as if it were against nature. People endure unimaginable misery and keep going. They do not feel that there is any reason to carry on, and yet they do. They have a sense that there is more than what they feel.”
I find these thoughts very profound. Yes, I’ve come a long way from caffeine to this, but it was the caffeine that led me here. Going without caffeine has reminded me of my limitations, that sometimes I’m going to move through this life in a fog and I cannot do it well alone.
The world dishes out neon signs blinking our limitations. Every single day we are reminded of them. They come in many forms. But as Christians, we are moving toward something else – toward a life without any of the limitations we know today.
Last night, just before I shut my eyes, I received an email from my friend Mary on my cell phone. “Ouch! on the caffeine withdrawal,” she said. “I can only offer sympathies from here. I won’t write much. I don’t want to make any extra noise for you.” She ended with a brief update, a maternal admonition to drinks lots of water, and a signing off that made me smile: “’Take care,’ she whispered.”
A little while later, my husband reached over and rubbed my back before he drifted off.
This is how we endure suffering. We allow those who love us to reach out, to whisper when needed, and then, when we see that someone else is suffering, hopefully, we’ll do the same for them.
How does God’s love manifest itself through the actions of the people in your life?