Transforming Grief Through Movement
“I cannot do this,” I whispered to no one. Grief sat like a refrigerator in my gut. It didn’t fit inside. I couldn’t get it out...
I sat on the cold bathroom floor working up the courage to go downstairs and prepare lunch. The kids’ exclamations told me that an unexpected guest had arrived and I sighed a deep deep sigh. Through no fault of her own, our cherished guest was sitting in the home of a woman who could not function… could not leave the bathroom. “I cannot do this,” I whispered to no one. Grief sat like a refrigerator in my gut. It didn’t fit inside. I couldn’t get it out. It just kept me pinned to the floor, seemingly purposeless and brutally painful.
That complicated day fell during the middle of the 2020 quarantine, which I thought of secretly as “the grieving year.” Wave after violent wave of grief hit our homes, communities, in the nation, around the world. Every day brought another blow. It was my practice to pour out my own sorrow at the feet of Jesus and would find the will to rise again and share His eternal hope with those who would listen. But on this particular day, the grief was paralyzing, and in spite of doing all the right things, I felt I could not rise.
One of my avocations is writing about healing and natural health care, but I know as well as anyone that proper care of the body does not end suffering. Grief comes to all through various means of losses and sorrows, and yet it also opens the door for consolations of our loving Father. It is by His design that, in the midst of grief, there is both spiritual and physical healing to be found in moving the body forward. I knew this intellectually…
And so I blew my nose one more time, wiped my eyes, picked up my internal refrigerator, and opened the door.
Instead of going downstairs, I went to my bedroom and pulled out my tennis shoes. I have no control. I am afraid. I am shattered. But I will not lay down and let this grief suck the hope out of my life. I haven’t run in a decade but I’m going to do it now… because I still can (maybe). I want to feel alive.
I believed it though I didn’t feel it, and I made the decision to act in accordance with that belief and take a step forward.
Science tells us that physical movement causes a chemical reaction in the body which elevates mood, promotes healing, and brings a person to the door of possibility again. The mountain of research includes many technical terms like “neurotransmitters” and “endorphins,” but on that day, I didn’t think about the science…
I’m going to run a mile because I can. Well, maybe I can’t but I’ve got to move. I have to fight. Fight this virus and the injustice. I’m going to run because I am physically capable and will offer it as a prayer for those who cannot, the sick and the isolated, the hopeless, the defeated.
At about the half mile mark, my fight song would turn into a canticle of joy… but I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that I needed to move. The little crowd that had gathered in my kitchen would have to wait a little longer for lunch. “I’ll be right back,” I said. And out I went, taking the first steps of the first mile of the rest of my life.
I remembered clearly a time (only a couple years earlier) when I was too sick to leave the house and when I wasn’t sure whether my prison of chronic illness would ever let me go. When I was finally able to move forward, I was like a baby learning to crawl. Then like a scared little girl walking down a dark hallway to reach the light. A few months before quarantine, I was able to start serious exercise for the first time in years and spread my wings beyond my home. When public health orders shut down my gym, I refused to sink back to where I had been, and on this day, even when it all felt like it was too much to bear…
I put on old shoes and ran a mile that I wasn’t supposed to be able to run, at a pace that was a little too fast. I felt the fire in my lungs and I cried as I ran. I fought for hope. I fought for life. And I changed…
Thank you, God! For these legs that move and burn with this effort. Thank you for the freedom to move about. For the function of my lungs. For the crowd waiting in my home.
I started out that day almost in despair which turned into a fierce and angry desire to fight something. I returned home with peace, hope, and a renewed understanding that the smallest movements and breaths of my day can become an act of praise, and that my grief does not have to be a festering pool… but can become a deep cry of love.
That experience didn’t turn me into a regular runner–though I do enjoy it seasonally–but it taught me in a concrete way about the gift of movement in a time of trial. It is often the times of deepest sorrow which keep us sedentary, and staying sedentary which can keep us chemically in depression. Exercise cannot bring back our loved ones or restore our losses, but it can help us restore hope, function, and even find the courage to once again approach the throne of Grace.
We don’t have to run like a fool in old tennis shoes (though it did turn out well for me), but perhaps we can start with a little stretching, a little breathing, a little working of the muscles… like a slow unfolding from a long sleep.
God loves us so much that He wrote His plan for our healing into our very cells and body chemistry. Grief is an extremely physical experience. In His benevolence, He has built that reality into our design. He doesn’t ask us to fix ourselves, He only asks us to crawl to the door of possibility where He will take up our burden and lead us in hope.
“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:20