So I’ve been having back issues lately. I know when it started. One day in October, I attended a conference, and walked around with my messenger bag on my shoulder all day. When the day ended, my back was not right. It wasn’t agony, but it was annoying, also familiar. I’ve wrenched my back maybe a dozen times in the last ten years, and it always felt more or less like this. A dull ache that hurt more depending on how I was standing or sitting. I did it again, I thought. Frustrating, but no big deal. I’ll just have to take it easy for a few days, and I’ll be fine within a week or so.
A week passed, and it still hurt. Two weeks. Four months. It’s February now, and the pain is still there. It’s not really any worse, but it’s no better either. I have been living with this for four months. It’s worst in the mornings, and when I transition between standing or sitting or lying down. Coughing is a particular nuisance, hurting my legs. It’s affecting my life – my mood hasn’t been great since it started, and I’ve put on some pounds. Surely both of those things are related to not getting as much exercise as I’d like. I know I should see my doctor about it. But I haven’t. I even had a routine check-up at my doctor last week, and I didn’t mention my back to him then. Why not?
Well, there are a few reasons I haven’t. First off, I don’t want to take the time to deal with it. Second, I feel like there are too many options for how to deal with it: I could see my doctor, or maybe a chiropractor, or maybe use the free online physical therapy program my health insurance plan offers. But I think the biggest reason is money. I don’t want to spend any money to do this – including and especially any money from my health insurance. That’s the thing – I don’t want other people to spend any of their money to help me feel better. Rightly or wrongly, I view health insurance as a big pool of money which many people have contributed to, including me. That pool may be big, but it’s finite, so any money I take from it is money that can’t be used by other people. So it’s important to me that I put in more money through premiums than I take out, so that others can use it. I have no problem with other people using that money for their own health, but me? No.
Because here’s the real reason I haven’t done anything – I don’t feel I deserve it. Other people have more need of help than I do, and I am not worth it.
On an entirely unrelated note, there’s something I hear a lot in my day-to-day ministry as a pastor. There is a seven-word sentence I have heard time and time again from parishioners, particularly those who are older or who have some kind of serious medical condition. Seven words that break my heart every time I hear them. Seven words that make me so upset and so sad, words I wish I could strike from the dictionary. Those words are: “I don’t want to be a burden.”
I have heard that so many times. People who always saw themselves as givers, not takers. As the one who offers help, not receives it. People who don’t want their adult children to have to take care of them. People who would rather die than be, as they say, a burden. It always breaks my heart, because part of the gospel I try to preach is that God has made us to be in relationship, in community, with one another. God has made us to care for one another, and to lean on one another. It’s our job as God’s children both to help others and to accept help when we need to. It always makes me sad that people have not internalized that, have not believed that, have not accepted that. We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens – that’s what we do. That’s who we were made to be. “You’re not a burden,” I often say. “Your children don’t see you as a burden,” I often say. “It’s important to give people the chance to help,” I often say. If I could change one thing about my congregation (any congregation), it would be to remove that sentence from our vocabulary, remove the idea that we are burdens, remove the need we think we have to go it alone.
So it’s not actually unrelated, is it? This is exactly what I’ve been doing. I have been saying, in regards to my back, “I don’t want to be a burden.” And I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to be the person who says that. I want to act differently than that, think differently, be different than that.
This is what my lousy sense of self-worth has gotten me to: I don’t want to be a burden. And I don’t want to feel that way. I want to be different. So I’m going to call my doctor tomorrow. I’m going to get my back looked at, whatever that will entail. I’m going to allow my health insurance to pay for it. (Well, it’s only February, so it’ll be mostly my deductible, but anyway…) I’m not a burden. And it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for help. (I need to keep saying that to myself.) And it’s okay to accept it.
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay