I overheard the thud from the next room, where I washed dinner dishes at the sink. The playful laughter ceased abruptly, replaced by a sharp shriek of pain. I rushed around the corner to find my almost four-year-old son lying on the carpet, clutching his elbow and sobbing. I gathered him up to comfort him, trying to assess what had happened. He sputtered through his tears that he fell off the couch and hurt his arm. Since our couch was only about two feet high, it didn’t seem possible that a tumble from that height could have done too much damage.
But this time, our usually happy-go-lucky guy didn’t bounce back from his boo-boo. He finally calmed down, but he would not let any of us touch his arm. He refused to straighten or use it. When he continued to whimper in pain at bedtime after a dose of Tylenol, my husband and I knew we’d better get the injury examined.
The next morning an x-ray revealed an area near his elbow where there was a tiny bit of pooled blood. Though no fracture was evident, the doctor explained that it was likely hidden under the blood and recommended a cast to help protect the whole area as the bone healed.
My sweet boy was a trooper. He patiently cooperated as we went from one appointment to the next: first the pediatrician for the exam, then the imaging center for the x-ray, and finally the orthopaedist for the cast. He smiled bravely as the technician wrapped his bent arm with brightly colored fiberglass that would harden within minutes. We teased him that the royal blue and red stripes he chose would blend in perfectly with his superhero costumes. I rewarded his good behavior with an ice cream treat. Overall, I felt pretty good about the doctor’s prognosis that three and a half weeks would allow enough time for his tiny little bone to heal.
When we got home, however, I realized that in all our explanations of what it meant to wear a cast, the doctor and I had left out a very important detail. Not five minutes after pulling into the driveway, he ran to his room to change into his dress up clothes. He called me upstairs and asked me to take off his cast. When he heard the bad news that it wouldn’t come off until our next trip to the doctor, the tearful tantrum began. It took thirty minutes of crying, but he finally surrendered to the reality that he would have to live with this limitation for a while.
We’ve once again arrived at the tail end of winter. Like silly schoolgirls, we’re falling for every flirtatious tease of warmer weather we get. Hope is in the air, but at the same time, the landscape is dry and brown. It hasn’t yet sprung to life. The trees are still naked, mere tangles of bare bones.
For two-thirds of our calendar, the trees in our Midwestern town are dressed with bountiful leaves. While adorned with the buds and blossoms of spring, the healthy green glow of summer, or the jewel tones of fall, their branches play a supporting role, going mostly unnoticed. Then the year winds down, and their coverings are stripped by harsh winds, leaving them exposed. Seasons shift, and their skeletons show. The lifeblood of the trees must have drawn from deep roots throughout the cycle in order for them to maintain health and withstand the winter. Gazing at the barrenness of the woods behind my home made me ponder my own inner structure and its ability to endure winter.
Our physical network of bones are responsible for supporting and enabling movement, absorbing impact, allowing us to stand upright, and giving us our shape and strength. Our foundations are hidden from view, exposed only by x-rays or when an outside force cuts through our skin and lays them bare.
Without proper nourishment from a vitamin rich diet, they become brittle and weak. Exercise is required to challenge them to build density. When force is placed upon a bone, it breaks down and then rebuilds itself a little stronger, enabling it to handle more stress the next time. Sudden trauma from a fluke accident, a daredevil stunt gone awry, or intentional abuse can cause bones to break. More subtle fractures, appropriately named repetitive stress injuries, can grow gradually as well.
Beliefs form the soul’s skeleton. These are inherited from our families of origin, imprinted on our psyches by the words our parents spoke to us. Our surrounding culture and circumstances shape the way we see the world. Our understanding of the person and character of God is built by listening to, watching and interacting with those who claim to know and represent Him. Both consciously and unwittingly, we test our hypotheses in the real world of our experiences. Over the years, we gradually cement our concepts of who we are, what the world is about, and where we fit into it. Even if we can’t articulate them clearly, our beliefs fuel our thoughts and behavior.
As I look around at the lives of my friends and others in my peer group, it’s obvious that we’re in the thick of it – real, hard life. We’re longing for spring to return as we walk through the reality of the stresses and pain of this life. Unwelcome diagnoses, broken family relationships, wayward children and demanding jobs weigh us down, and a low-grade anxiety permeates the air we breathe. Some of us frantically reach for makeup and accessories, titles and accomplishments, jam-packed schedules – anything – to stay covered and maintain the illusion of an eternal summer in our lives.
But winter comes around in every life. It is no respecter of persons. And when it does, we are exposed. We all have our own particular flavor of brokenness that hinders our happiness and tempts us to cover up. But if we are brave enough to bare our souls and take time to nourish them, winter can be our most productive season.
Just like with my little one’s injury, healing begins with examination. When we take a closer look, we may find that untended wounds from our past have stunted our growth. Lies we believed have left us with weak spots in our souls. Hidden and ignored, these cracks make us unable to bear the weight of life’s stresses and threaten to make us crumble, overwhelmed.
Old breaks may require the painful process of being reset – rebroken and then realigned – to allow our cores to grow stronger. Injured souls, like broken bones, must be supported and protected for healing to occur. Relationships that give us the freedom and grace to ask the hard questions, encouraging us to go deeper in our search for God and truth and meaning, can help us gain perspective and fortitude. We have to invest the time to build our strength. And our advanced age means a mere three and a half weeks of suspended superhero play won’t quite cut it. Whole, healthy souls are built incrementally.
Bone pain can be intense and isolating because no one can see the injury from the outside. But when we are brave enough to have others help us examine and treat our wounds, we can begin to heal.