Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22
“My tummy hurts!” I said to my classmates, as three of us first-graders sat cross-legged, playing jacks on the front steps of the girls’ dorm. I rubbed the loose waistband of my shorts.
One girl counted out ten tiny metal jacks and glanced over, squinting at me in the bright, African sunlight. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel good.” During our Saturday morning free time, I usually went chasing the boys around the playground. “Maybe I’ll try playing something else, so I forget about my tummy ache.” But what I really want is to rest in peace and quiet, I thought.
Try Something New
I sauntered over to the hopscotch squares where three big girls laughed, jumped, and clapped together. They let me join in. Three or four times I tossed the smooth stone, but I threw it too hard, and the annoying rock landed outside the lines. Despite the extra attempts they gave me, I lost my turn.
“I’m going to my room,” I said.
“You can’t go back inside. We’re supposed to stay out here to get exercise and sunshine,” said one of the big girls.
I returned to my classmates who were now playing pick-up sticks. “I tried to have fun,” I said, “but my tummy still feels bad.”
“You should go to the nurse if you’re sick,” one of them said.
After several weeks of having scraped knees, I knew where the infirmary was, but I didn’t want to go alone. “Will someone come with me?”
On to See the Nurse
My friend Sheena stood and dusted off the seat of her shorts. Grabbing my hand, she led me across the playground, behind the dorm to the infirmary. I pushed open the screen door and the nurse waved us in. “What are you girls here for?”
“I have a tummy ache. Can I rest in the sick room please?”
Last week when I needed a band-aid, I stepped into the girls’ sick bay. A large cupboard along the right-hand wall had shelves filled with dolls, teddy bears, and books. Four neatly-made beds stood under a row of windows whose floral curtains were pulled aside, letting in long rays of sunlight. The solitude soothed my soul.
“Let’s see how you’re doing.” The crisp voice brought me to earth, and the nurse placed her warm hand on my brow. “Hmmm. You don’t feel feverish.”
“Climb on my exam table and put this thermometer under your tongue.” After a few minutes she removed it, held it to the light, and said, “Your temperature’s normal. Why don’t you girls go on out and play.”
How Do You Measure Anxiety?
We returned to the group, but I sure didn’t feel fine. My stomach was quaking, and yesterday I had a headache. It was gone now.
A headache! I bet when I had a headache, I had a fever, too. Hmmm, that gives me an idea!
I moseyed to my room alone. Standing along the wall between the front of the dresser and the foot of my bed, I hoped no one could see me if they walked past. I’m going to try to give myself a headache, so I get a temperature, too.
Leaning forward, I struck my forehead sharply against the wall. “Ouch, that hurts!” I rubbed the back of my neck, then blinked several times. Hmmm. No headache yet.
I knocked my head against the cool cement a second time. I must rest in the infirmary, so my tummy will feel better.
Once more, I banged my forehead against the wall, and the force reverberated around my skull. I teetered back and forth. “I bet I have a fever now.”
Back at the office, the nurse took one look at me and said, “My goodness. Your forehead is as red as a tomato. Perhaps we should take your temp again.” She repeated her test with the thermometer, peered at the numbers, then said, “Look at that. Still normal!”
She helped me jump off the table and patted me on the shoulder as she sent me towards the doorway. “Go on. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Won’t Somebody Help Me?
I dropped my chin to my chest and plodded back to the dorm. “I’m going to my room,” I said to my friends as I climbed the front steps. Sheena stood and followed me.
Mommy, when can I come home?
I hadn’t cried in a whole week, but as I trotted toward my room, fiery tears blazed a trail down my cheeks. Mommy, when can I come home? Wiping my nose with my shoulder, I turned to Sheena and said, “I really want to lie on my bed. But I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble for messing up my covers.”
“You’ll probably feel better after a nap,” Sheena said. “C’mon and try to sleep. I’ll stay right here and make sure no one tells you to go outside.”
A little while later I woke, stretched, and patted my now-happy tummy. Swinging my feet to the floor, I smiled at my patient friend. “Wow! I feel much better. Thanks for helping me out.”
I believe this was an isolated incident and just my best attempt to provide the symptom that would get me the care I needed. Never again did I purposely harm myself. However, emotional pain, like physical, is a symptom of a problem that begs to be addressed. It’s equally important, even though it doesn’t register on a thermometer.
Leaving home and family at six years old, caused a deep rupture in my psychological foundation. I desperately needed help navigating through life. Additionally, as an introvert, I required regular times of privacy and solitude. Daily tension led to frequent stomachaches and headaches.
Now as an adult, when I have unmet needs, I sometimes punish myself and others, perhaps by sulking, blaming, or holding tension that results in physical ailments. I’m learning to share my concerns with my husband or a trusted friend and put words to what I’m feeling, instead of using passive-aggressive methods to get support.
The more I find healing, the more I’m able to trust that God is good and relax in the confidence that he’ll provide me with the care I need.
Link It to Your Life
When have you needed care, but no one recognized it, not even yourself? Have you felt like you were all alone in a sea of expectations? What can you do when your emotional or spiritual health is lagging? Perhaps you don’t require solitude for rejuvenation, but was there an occasion you recognized this need in someone else, and you were able to help?
Father, thank you that you are full of compassion and your love nourishes my spirit. Help me to look to you daily for the care I need, knowing you always recognize my pain, even when it can’t be measured.