12 July 2007

Load-bearing Exercise

Twelve and a half years ago, I dislocated my femur rollerblading backwards. My hip has never completely healed, and for many years I walked with a noticeable limp. I had limited mobility and learned to live with constant pain in my hip and back.

Week after week, I sat in Meeting with the prayer "Make me a strong vessel so I can do the work you have given me."

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. Eliminating the problem foods lessened the inflammation in my hip and back. Exercises strengthened my muscles and greatly reduced the pain. After a year, I no longer woke up each morning because it was too painful to keep sleeping. I was able to move more freely. I went days at a time without pain.

This last fall, I had recovered enough to start working on the weight I'd gained when I was partially disabled. Now 30 pounds lighter, I find that I'm busier than I ever have been. As I've gained strength and energy, my responsibilities have expanded as well.

My prayer, it would seem, has been answered.

In recent weeks, I have been under the weight of a leading. My path has been unmistakable, winding along the edge of a cliff. I haven't had to wonder whether I'm doing the right thing, and doing the right thing has been difficult enough that I haven't had time to appreciate the clarity of the leading.

I've been thinking a lot recently about those whose leadings have taken them out ahead of everyone else. How difficult and lonely it must be to carry the Light alone into the darkness. Were their feet guided inexorably on a path they didn't want to walk? How did they hang onto their leadings in the face of condemnation and persecution?

I don't think I could carry a load like that. I have enough trouble carrying my small burdens.

My recent experience has shown me areas where I need improvement. I have not been asked to do anything that I can't manage, but I've been shown the places where I am still weak and inexperienced. The Light has shone on my flaws and said, "You'd better work on this, Heather. You'll need to be able to handle twice the load on the road ahead."

Fair warning.

I meet each month with a group of women Friends in a prayer circle. I feel especially blessed to share this intimate time with some of the older women, Friends who have grown deep in compassion and wisdom. This last week, our theme was forgiveness and healing. As I sat in worship with these Friends, I thought about the horrible tragedies they have experienced in their lives. I marveled that they had come through those dark times in their lives and emerged with so much serenity.

I thought about my own small burdens. I thought about my recovery from my hip injury, and how I've had to work at increasing the weight in my exercises over time. Bearing a small load now enables me to bear a larger load later. Each time I up the weights in my exercises, I increase my capacity to carry weight.

Maybe our spiritual practice is like that, too. Each time we faithfully carry out a small leading, we are exercising our faculties to prepare ourselves for larger leadings. By conditioning our spiritual muscles, we increase our capacity to carry our spiritual loads.

A Friend once shared ministry that said that God could give any of us great gifts when we needed them. I've come to think that those great gifts will only be given to those who are prepared to receive them.

One of the early Quaker beliefs (heretical to other branches of Puritanism) was the perfectibility of human beings. Yes, we humans are weak vessels and prone to sin and fear. As we live in the Light, however, we have the capacity to learn and grow, to perfect ourselves, to more and more fully live our Christian witness.

I have been blessed to join a community where this kind of striving is commonplace, and where many Friends have much to show for their lifetimes of faithfulness. I am starting to see the sorts of challenges that have helped shape them into the weighty Friends they have become, and I am humbled. I cannot follow their path on my merits or through my efforts alone, but only by yielding to leadings I don't want, wouldn't choose, and have difficulty following.

I would appreciate your prayers, Friends, and news of your progress on this shared journey.