About ten days ago, a friend and I were talking about my ongoing struggle with self-care. This includes, but is not limited to, issues around sleep, eating, exercise, and, of course, actually taking real, true, time off. What we in the religion game like to call "Sabbath" time, time not in any way dictated by productivity or "getting things done" or work obligations.
My friend said to me, "I wonder what your life would be like if you could walk every morning, and swim every afternoon."
It's always interesting to see what your real reactions are to things, as opposed to the reactions you expect from yourself. My real reaction to this was a deep sigh of pleasure. "Oh, that sounds...so wonderful."
I would not have expected that reaction. I would have expected to feel exasperated, pressured, overwhelmed with the impossibility of it. Instead, I grabbed onto it, like a little kid being swept downstream who had been thrown a tiny, hard, and yet improbably buoyant life-preserver.
The very next day I found myself at the walk-in because I was wheezing-- loudly, alarmingly. I've never had asthma, I'm not a smoker. My blood pressure was up. They gave me an inhaler.
Three days later, instead of being in the pulpit, I was back at the walk-in being diagnosed with pneumonia. They gave me antibiotics and medications to reduce the inflammation in my lungs, and orders to rest, drink fluids, and do pretty much nothing.
The first part of this week consisted of me trying to get back into the swing of church this Sunday (and today, for the wedding of a beloved member of my congregation). It consisted of me creating bulletins, gathering thoughts for sermons and meditation, writing reports and replying to close to 150 emails.
I know that's not rest. I know that's not nothing.
But it also consisted of me reading. Two books, one novel and one book of church history/ theology. A dense one, one I haven't been able to make mental space for, but which I'm now devouring.
It also consisted of me praying. More, more intentionally. Returning to prayer patterns that have nurtured me in the past, but which have gotten swept downstream, like that little kid.
On Thursday I returned to the doctor again, not feeling a lot of improvement. (The truly disconcerting symptom in all of this has been how weak I've felt. Feel.) An x-ray, more meds. And finally, finally admitting that the idea that I could return to work this weekend was misguided at best.
With tears of frustration and real sorrow I handed off the last of my obligations. One friend had been covering pastoral emergencies. Another covered a graveside service. And one-- God bless him-- took both the wedding and Sunday.
And then, all at once, the emails all but stopped, slowing down to a trickle.
And now, I am in a great stillness. My house is quiet (though I am still wheezing). My mind is awake (except when I fall into a deep sleep, which happens a lot).
I read an article this morning from the Well in the New York Times, their section for health and well-being. It says that, in making changes for our well-being, it may actually help us to do several things at once, rather than focusing on one thing at a time. Don't simply change your sleep schedule; do the meditation you've been wanting to do as well. Make your diet healthier at the same time you are adding weight training to your regimen. Take up both walking and swimming.
At least one study seems to show that, not only do we thrive when we make a bunch of positive changes at once, but the effect stay with us, even after we're not adhering to the new regimen perfectly. The new practices reinforce one another. Win, win, win.
I'm wondering how my pneumonia/ enforced Sabbath regimen might be continued after I am back at work. The time I've taken for prayer. The time spent reading. The healthier eating choices I've made (embracing the fact that applesauce appeals more than fries just now). And maybe the addition of a walk in the morning and a swim in the afternoon.
I had been pondering how to make a change, a big change, that would help me in my quest to care for myself better.
The first thing I had to do, evidently, was get sick enough that everything I was doing would be interrupted, all at once. Enforced stillness. A full stop.
Now. Waiting for what's next. But truly waiting.