At 16 years old, I was diagnosed with grade 5 spondylolisthesis, also known as spondyloptosis, a rare spine condition in which my lumbar vertebrae had completely fallen off my sacrum. It was a devastating diagnosis, one that required me to give up many activities I loved, from a lead role in a ballet recital to my spot on my high school Cross Country team. After a fusion surgery, I wore a cumbersome plastic brace around my torso that hinged to another brace that ran down my left leg as I reluctantly gave up yet another high school activity – driving. Pain scales became my new language, the medical trapeze my new sport. Despite the gravity of my condition, one that came with debilitating pain I often had to quantify for doctors, it was invisible.
Many times, the burdens we carry are invisible. Whether it is physical or emotional pain, trauma, anxiety, fear, depression, or loss, these burdens weigh on us heavily, and the daily toll they take is draining. Without a clear solution, we look for ways to cope. If our conditions are not fixable, where can we seek wellness?
Defined, wellness means having good health as an actively-pursued goal. Even though my fusion is now stable, my spine remains deformed, and the pain has never subsided. My chronic pain is a burden I can hand over to God even as I seek input from doctors, explore new treatment options, and look for ways to strengthen my spine.
Paul prayed for the people of Ephesus, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (NIV, Ephesians 3:16-19).
God walked with me at 16, and He walks with me now. As I continue to choose small habits to build strength and improve physical wellness, I know the greater change will happen through actively seeking spiritual wellness, knowing I cannot face this chronic condition alone, nor was I meant to. The act of seeking spiritual wellness means praying earnestly, listening for opportunities to serve, reading our Bibles, connecting with others, and maintaining an attitude that is pleasing to God.
We are reminded in Psalm 139:13-16 that God made us exactly as He intended:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (NIV).”
God, help us to seek You when we suffer and when we are well. Help us to rely on You as we practice spiritual wellness alongside taking care of the physical bodies you have given us. Amen.
Ashley Bartley, M.Ed., NCC, is a Board Certified Counselor, author, and curriculum writer. Her children’s books are part of a social emotional learning children’s book series published by Boys Town Press. Her writing has also been published in The Joyful Life Magazine and on the Kindred Mom blog. She lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and three young boys.