Forgiving Our Bodies, Forgiving Our Situations
“Why is this happening to you?”
I did not respond. I didn’t know what to say. I had just shared my diagnosis and prognosis with a dear friend, and her response was filled with her struggle to find answers and meaning in this illness that was taking my life. She could not accept the reality that I had shared with her, so her mind did what minds often do -- it argued with that reality.
I eventually found words of response.
“Why not me?” I asked.
She replied, “You have just gotten the life you want. You have a good marriage and a new baby.”
I will forever be grateful that I was unable to follow her reasoning. I just kept repeating that same phrase to myself. I repeat it still today, two decades later.
Why not me?
I have somehow been graced with the ability to steer myself clear of asking, “Why me?” in regard to my heart condition -- or to most other situations in which I find myself. As I explained to my friend that day, to begin to ask that question would lead me down a road that may not provide the opportunity for a U-turn. If I ask, “Why me?” of this particular reality in which I find myself, I then also need to ask, “Why me?” of everything else in my life:
Why was I born in a country where girls receive education?
Why have I always had a shelter, food, and healthcare when so many others have not?
Why have I been blessed with countless opportunities throughout my years?
Why am I graced with close relationships?
There is no answer to these questions, because none of these situations in which we find ourselves -- our health crises or our access to healthcare, for instance -- has anything to do with our worth. We do not earn them. They are not payments for good acts; they do not reflect our inherent goodness.
They have nothing to do with merit.
While I do believe that many of these questions must be asked in terms of the collective (for example, why do some people not have shelter and food, while others do?), to ask them of individuals often seems to indicate some kind of connection between that person, their behaviors and choices, and the situations in which they find themselves.
And, for some of us, these types of questions are asked of God.
“Why would God do this to me?” My elderly hospice patient greeted me with this question as I walked into her sunny room one spring afternoon. She repeated these same words to me several times during each of my weekly visits. I do not think she expected an answer from me, because she always continued on with her reasoning: “I worked for the church my entire life, and this is what I get? Everything hurts. I am all alone. I cannot believe that God would repay me in this way.” I gently stroked her wrinkled hand and tried to comfort her; “I am so sorry you are hurting and alone. I wish you did not have to experience this.”
I never addressed her original question, although I must have heard it at least one hundred times during the months I spent visiting her. Years ago, with my friend’s question of “Why you?” I had made a pact with myself not to engage in similar queries about my own experience.
Thankfully, my mind has some protection coverage around this area of inquiry. Whenever I try to connect my heart condition to any aspect of myself in a causal way, my mind grows fuzzy. I simply cannot draw conclusions about the circumstances in which I find myself that relate to my worthiness. And I am boundlessly grateful for this, because I have witnessed so many individuals suffering as they venture down pathways of reasoning similar to my patient’s.
Forgiveness work involves accepting that something has happened. As we work toward forgiveness, we often get stuck in arguments -- arguments for how things should have happened, arguments that we don’t deserve whatever has occurred, arguments that this is absolutely unacceptable.
But, acceptable or not, this has happened. I am sick. My patient was in a lot of pain. And no amount of arguing would ever change either of those truths.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are caused by someone else. Occasionally, medical mistakes, accidents, or acts of violence are what lead to our health conditions. I am not suggesting that the persons involved in such acts be forgiven; that’s another matter entirely.
Here my concern is the situation, the illness, the pain -- and our forgiveness of that. Forgiveness means truly accepting that something has happened. When we are able to drop the arguments that it should not have happened (which may be absolutely valid; no one should have to endure pain and suffering), we can come into the fullness of what life has to offer right here, right now.
That fullness of life for me includes a heart that is often fatigued, frequently painful, and sometimes failing. Arguing that my heart should not be experiencing those things would be arguing against my very own body, which is something I have never been able to do.
Can I forgive my body for not working as well as it used to? Can I forgive my body for experiencing pain? Can I forgive this situation in which I find myself?
Can I alter the question, “Why is this happening to me?” Can I turn it into a statement? -- perhaps “This is happening to me."
What might happen then?