When I was finishing writing my book, my life shrunk. An infection — that we belatedly learned was COVID-19 — became chaos in my immunocompromised body, and my life became as small as my queen-sized bed. As days turned into weeks, my prayers became pleas. Help. Please. Heal.
But after three infections, two rounds of antibiotics, and a month of fever and debilitating fatigue, I was losing my grip on hope. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark valley of illness, and even my pleading, one-word prayers were turning into silence. The prayer-book author couldn’t pray.
When we feel small and stuck, it’s hard to summon words. What I know as a licensed therapist is that when harm happens or life hurts too much for too long, our bodies temporarily shut down to survive, disconnecting us from our brains’ innate capacity to name and tame the truth of our experiences. When stress surges through our bodies like a raging storm, words tend to get lost in the wind.
When we cannot find the words to pray, we are not faithless. We are feeling the fact that we are both embodied and vulnerable.
I was referred to an endocrinologist who explained that I almost definitely had adrenal insufficiency, how it would not be a quick recovery and there likely would be more issues to uncover, but that I would recover. But it was her first response to my story and tears that brought hope near.
Her words were like a benediction. A blessing.
When life makes us feel stuck, scared, or small, the storms of stress separate our minds from our bodies and hearts and ourselves from one another. Fear can turn our hands to fists and our feet to flight. We sink into overwhelm and shut down in storms of stress in an effort to survive, but rushing and retreating aren’t exactly the path to strength and joy.
It’s hard to pray when we feel powerless because our bodies need the presence of someone else to soothe us and speak us back into safety. Fear and stress temporarily disconnect us from the language centers of the brain and the calming, regulating power of the prefrontal cortex, but the presence of another safe, empathetic person can bring our minds, bodies, and hearts back together:
Beginning here, I glimpse the end of fear.
John stands in the river. Christ walks right in.
These are the steps that show how Love draws near.
Heaven is torn open. The Dove descends.
Before the Son has done any great sign,
the Voice who made the world, makes love a gift.
Through cloud and sun, God speaks the true design:
“You are beloved.” Love now is in earth’s midst.
The river’s course remains the same and yet
these words have stirred the world, tilting faith’s flow.
Love is not earned, nor won, but heard and set
on he who asked to be baptized below.
his Man still hears the words for which we reach.
Beloved becomes our truth in God’s own speech.
Courage is something we hold in common. Courage is not the possession of the bravest or biggest but the choice to move toward the heart when the mind and body are separated by fear. Courage is the choice to move our fear into communion.
Adapted from The Book of Common Courage: Prayers and Poems to Find Strength in Small Moments by K.J. Ramsey. Copyright © 2023 Katie Jo Ramsey. Used by permission of Zondervan. harpercollinschristian.com.