Raise Your Hand if Your Back Hurts

back pain and stress

I knew all spring there was a good chance our kids wouldn’t return to school. It still felt like a blow when the news came. Then Penny’s week at Camp PALS was canceled. Then William’s summer overnight camp was canceled. Then I read more and more about how we could be living without gatherings of more than 50-100 people for the next one to two years. In the midst of this string of cancellations and stress, I experienced back pain.

My back became a board. Not a rubber band stretched a bit too tight for comfort. Not a lumpy sweater with a few knots to work out. A flat sheet of wood that felt like it might crack open if I moved the wrong way.

As it happened, I heard from a friend in the midwest who was in bed because she had thrown her back out. My sister called and said, “I’m walking instead of running because I did something to my back.” My own running partner canceled because she needs to see the chiropractor and, of course, can’t do such a thing at this moment. My husband started using a battery-powered massage tool to try to get the knots out of his neck. And then the Wall Street Journal ran an article with the title, “Working at Home Is Taking a Toll on Our Backs and Necks.

Stress, Loss, and Physical Pain

I’m not convinced that it’s the ergonomics of sitting on a couch instead of at a desk that’s causing all this pain. Our chairs and beds didn’t hurt us before the pandemic started. Yes, we are working in different spaces. But we are also working with a different perspective on the world, with different questions about our lives and our future. Perhaps a new chair or an ice pack or some stretches will help. And also, perhaps we need to acknowledge that stress and confusion and heartache lead to pain in our bodies.

I’ve learned in recent years that when tightness or pain comes up in me without any obvious precipitating physical action, I need to pay attention and ask where that pain is coming from. In the case of my severe and all-of-a-sudden back pain, it was pretty clear that I was reacting to the news of school closures extending for a long time and summer plans being uncertain at best. Of course, I can’t change the school closures or the summer camps or the path of the coronavirus. All I can do is try to understand why this uncertainty brings such stress into my body.

My yoga teacher tells me that any time the back gets tight it indicates “bracing” for something hard in the future. This makes sense to me–I’m bracing for the loss of time, of speaking engagements, of my job, of my introverted days. But I don’t want to walk through these next many months with a hurting back and a heart that is bracing for impact. I want to walk through it with an acknowledgment of hurt and loss and an openness to possibility and love.

Prayer and Pain

So, for a few days of pretty significant pain, I prayed for a way to bring that pain to God, to address the place of emotional and spiritual pain both so that the bodily pain could dissipate and so that the deeper work of healing could take place. I came upon Psalm 18 (verses 16-19):

God reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

This passage gave me a way to pray for help, and it also gave me a promise. That God was my support, but that God also would bring me into spaciousness and not confinement.

So every time my back started to tighten up or ache again, I prayed, “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

My back pain has dissipated. Now my knees are acting up. I’m sure there will be tense shoulders, tight hips, strained hamstrings and achilles tendon at some point in the near future. Maybe you’re experiencing some of these same physical woes, or maybe it’s stomachaches or headaches or eye twitches.

An Invitation

I’m trying to take each one as an invitation to wonder what I’m afraid of, what I’m sad about, why I’m angry, where I feel hurt in my soul. And then to invite that pain into God’s presence and live into the promise of healing and wholeness to come.


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