Learning to take it slow

By Tom Ehrich
Posted Oct 17, 2012

[Religion News Service] When I alerted my readers that I would be taking time off from writing to recover from surgery, many sent me kind words with a common theme: “Take time to heal.”

“Give your body time to heal,” said one. “Rest and sleep,” said another. “Be sure to take ALL the time you need for a full recovery!” and “Don’t try to power through. Stop, lie down and rest. … We will still be here.”

I was hearing the wisdom of experience: been there, didn’t take the time, thought I was healed, wasn’t.

That certainly has been my experience from previous times of loss and stress. I haven’t always taken enough time to heal. I moved on too soon, when my head, in effect, was still woozy.

Even now, a week after surgery, I find my mind drifting off. I will be thinking through a sentence and find I have jumped tracks. I will need to read the same page of a novel several times and replay a scene in a recorded TV show.

So this time I am taking time. No rushing back to work, no making important decisions, no feeling impatient to have my wits fully about me.

I am revisiting earlier healing scenarios. After 9/11, for example, many wanted to seize control of the situation and begin making critical decisions. Partly, that was the inevitable fog of war; action needed to be taken. But some of our response was an unfortunate rush to reassert control, and a rush to escape the pain of loss and feeling helpless. The decisions that came out of that rush were poor.

I remember a time when I had been pummeled in a job. Once out the door, I wanted to take control, get my life in order, be free of pain. I rushed it. Even though I tried to learn from the experience, I wanted the interim to end ASAP. Impatience led me to see things without sufficient clarity and to make decisions that weren’t wise. Looking back on it, my rush to escape the agony merely extended the agony.

One way to assert control was to manage the flow of information. It’s better, I now realize, to be radically transparent.

A second way was to play all roles myself. I would be patient, chronicler, therapist, and source of strength. I allowed my daily writings to go from the revelations of autobiographical discovery to self-obsession and self-justification. My writings became dull.

This time, I am setting no internal stopwatch, imposing no expectations, not seeing this recovery time as an unfortunate pause before real life resumes. With the help of my extraordinary wife, I am allowing myself to move slowly, to focus on pain management, to take my medications as instructed, to let my body tell me when it’s time to extend my afternoon walk.

Most difficult for me, and yet most critical, when I try to write and sense my mind clouding over, I close my laptop and turn to reading. For me, not writing is a bit like not breathing, but I know it’s part of getting healthy.

I have made two discoveries: Giving up control is far more healing than trying to assert control.

And people are amazingly kind. If given the opening to express concern and affection, they do so. I’m not sure what I expected. This surgery is a first for me. But I treasure what has come thus far: a calming and affirming tenderness.

– Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Statements and opinions expressed in the articles and communications herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Episcopal News Service or the Episcopal Church.

Comments (4)

  1. Linda Ryan says:

    It’s good if you can take all the time you need to heal. Many don’t have the luxury of that kind of time. For some of us, we have to get back to work or the bills don’t get paid becuase we don’t have jobs that give us benefits. At least some of us have jobs, which others don’t. THey have the time to heal but not the luxury of a period of recuperation where stress is minimal and healing is maximal.

    May your recovery be blip-less and steady.

    Kitty, 3-1/2 weeks post-surgery and back at work for the past 2-1/2 weeks.

  2. Jack H Haney says:

    Precisely the advice I have given. On 9/11 I had a spinal Laminectomy and Fusion, and on 9/13 a cardiac arrest and pneumonia developing out of it. After a WIERD week in CCU and further hospitalization, and over two weeks in a nursing home/rehab center, home is wonderful, but so are the necessary period of rest, going to bed early, and watching my diet and doing necessary PT and Occupational therapies. What used to be done quickly and unthinkingly is now dome slowly with intentionality of thought. There is also time for thought, contemplation and prayer. Reading is slower. And I am discovering what was once important is now less so.

  3. Janice M. Schuyler says:

    I am a retired priest no living in Central Massachusetts. Knowing yourself is key to this, knowing I tend to be driven, prior to my first surgery (and prior to ordination), I said to myself,
    during recovery time I need to ask myself: “Do I feel I am taking it too easy, too slowly.” If the answer is yes, then probably I am doing it just right. The day after ordination as a transitional deacon I had major surgery and a week later insisted on being deacon for Christmas Eve. I did it, but later realized how foolish I was. And, I realized I needed to get back in touch with some reality about myself that I did not want to lose as an ordained person. Sometimes learning from our mistaken perceptions is the only way some of us can learn.

  4. Alecia Moroz says:

    Okay, God, I got the message. Thank you for sending me so many wonderful messengers, including Tom, to get through my thick skull! I knew it was bad when I admitted to my spiritual director that I was looking forward to the time after my upcoming surgery, because I hoped to recapture that thin space I knew earlier this year when I was recovering from a nearly fatal acute and necrotizing pancreatitis attack. During that time, I had no choice but to be still and present in the moment. I was too sick to do otherwise. No one expected anything from me but to heal. More importantly, I didn’t expect anything else from me. Now, 7 months out from that attack, I am back to full swing, even though my body and my heart are telling me I’m not quite ready.

    When I woke up from my coma, I could feel God’s presence. At that moment, I knew, really knew for the first time in my life, that I didn’t need to do or be anything. I knew at the core of my being that I was a child of God and that was enough. That feeling stayed with me for a long, long time, but now I feel it being crowded out by the noise of daily life and the expectations that come with it.

    Thank you, God, for giving me a chance to recapture that thin space. Help me find the right balance of contemplation and activity to fulfill your will for my life. Help us all to remember your guiding wisdom as found in Isaiah 30:15 “In returning and rest, you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (English Standard Version)

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