Last Christmas Eve I got the stomach flu at the Muir Woods visitor’s center in Northern California. Outside of the bathrooms there is this really cool wooden carving of a life sized Bear cub. I clung to its neck while I violently vomited all over its backside.
The drive back to my hotel was one of the worst hours of my life.
As I curled up in the fetal position, frozen under five thick blankets, it occurred to me that it was of no use to fight my illness. I would most likely spend the next twenty-four hours vacillating between feeling frozen and sweating profusely while periodically racing to the bathroom, and there was nothing I could do about it. This last year I’ve been playing around with the idea that I can potentially find freedom when I submit. So, as I lay in a hotel room with a shirt covered in vomit I wondered what would happen if I let go. What if I didn’t fight the pain and just submitted to my illness? My body relaxed, and I smiled.
I began to realize that the chills, stomach pain, and throwing up were the result of my body trying to heal itself. My body was acting as God had programmed it to act when a virus attacks it. I began to think of my throwing up as a gift from God. I hope you won’t see me as too crazy if I tell you that I told my body, “Thank you,” and that I asked God to let the pain be my teacher. The next time I ran to the bathroom I strongly whispered, “Yes! Bring it on! Heal me!”
The next morning was Christmas. I awoke, took a shower and lay on a living room couch the entire day, with a big goofy grin of gratitude.
Having the stomach flu is just awful, but in a sense, this was a glorious time for me. It felt good to accept that I don’t always have to have control over how I feel and that for a few hours I was able to accept the process and suffer well.
I have since found a new respect for those who are forced to live lives of constant pain and suffering. I suspect the years bring a depth, a sort of formation unlike nothing else. I wonder if some would be willing to share the insights they have learned from a life of pain?
As always, thanks for reading,
Nathan Foster is assistant professor of social work at Spring Arbor University (Spring Arbor, Michigan). He has been a counselor and founded/directed Door of Hope Counseling (Arvada, Colorado). He is married and has two children. He is an avid cyclist and still dreams of mountain adventures. His most recent book is Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet.