Who am I When my Body Fails Me? – Part 1: Honing Down to Our Essence

Who am I when my body fails me?”  This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll  on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience?  A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016.  It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.

After my second retirement some years ago, I had to work through the question, “Who am I when I am not what I used to do?  In other words who am I when I am no longer a Director of Spiritual Formation – a ministry leader, a boss, a curriculum planner, a teacher,  a writer, etc.  I had to let go of 40 years of finding my value in those roles (and others ) and find my value in the eyes of God.  It was quite a journey.

Now I am working through a new question, “Who am I when my body fails me?” The person who could work as hard as was needed for as long as it took now needs to rest while walking to the mail box. The person who couldn’t wait to rake the yard and clean up flower beds now looks out at the patio and dreads watering the plants. The person who was pretty much in charge of her body is a slave to numbers:  blood pressure, triglycerides, blood sugar, thyroid and kidney function, light chains and abnormal proteins – all of which seem to have banded together in rebellion.

I heard a psychologist who works in an Alzheimer unit tell the story of a woman who visited her husband Joe daily.  Every time she came, she asked him, “Do you know who I am?” And he would shake his head and say, “No.” Observing this ritual, the doctor pulled the wife aside and suggested that she no longer ask that question  Being queried, he said, was causing anxiety for her husband.  When she visited the next day, the wife came in, sat by the bed and undaunted and asked, “Do you know who I am?”  Joe looked at her for a long time and then replied, “I don’t know who you are, but I know I love you.”

This sweet story gives us a clue to who we are “when our body fails us.” Everything Joe had been before Alzheimer’s disease was melting away, including his memory of relationships.  At least that’s what his wife thought.  But the essence of Joe was unquenched; he could still offer and receive love, intimacy, and connection. So it seems we are still who we were even when we can’t understand how.

Life is, I think, all about honing down to our essence.  When we distill water, the pure is discovered and the junk and contaminants are left behind.  So it is with our lives. To use another metaphor, the refiner’s fire does its work; only the core of our being remains.  That core or flame is the breath of God in us. Perhaps the process of letting go and relinquishing when our body fails us is necessary so that we carry only our essence into the presence of God.


Scripture:  Psalm 2: 4-5

Prayer: “O God, even as Abraham ‘set out, not knowing where he was going’ and arrived at the land of promise by your Guidance, so I would make my way believing in Your promises and guided by Your commands, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of my faith” (Eugene Peterson, Praying with the Psalms, February 120.

Thought:  “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Coming Next:   Who am I When My Body Fails Me – Part 2:  A Beloved Child of God

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