Who Am I When My Body Fails Me? – Part 11: Widening Circles

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 Saurdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer,  quotes and questions for reflection have been added.

Sometimes our bodies fail us temporarily.  We share the family’s cold or flu or COVID-19. We suffer with tennis elbow or blisters or sprains. We break bones or have ulcers or disintegrating discs or cataracts.  Sooner or later our internal organs don’t function as well as they used to. Yet all these issues can usually improve or heal.

However, the time comes when we recognize that our bodies are progressively over-stressed and weakening. If we are at all introspective and honest with ourselves, we understand that life as we have known it is coming to an end. It seems to me that this passage is similar to the huge transition of moving into the teen-age years or middle age, but we are likely to be better prepared for it – or at least we can be. We can see new opportunities even as our stamina decreases, our balance is impaired, or our hearing fades.

It seems to me that Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the 20th century’s premier poets in the German language, has put his finger on this journey in the first verse of his poem Widening Circles:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I believe that a “successful” life is one of ever-widening circles. These circles bring new friends, new ideas, new interests, new schedules, even new behaviors. Eventually, however, we will realize that we will “not complete this last one.” If these circles include ever-widening circles of intimacy with God, we can more easily “give [ourselves]” to our last circle.


MULLING IT OVER:  Are your “circles” widening or contracting? Are you growing away from God or closer to God? Are you reaching out to friends and responding when they reach out to you or are you isolating?  Choose a way to craft an ever-widening circle in your life today.

SCRIPTURE:  Colossians 3:12-17

PRAYER:  Lord God, help me reach out to others so we can share our lives together.  Make me open to new circles of friendship and influence, help me find encouragement,  contentment, and serenity and to share those qualities with others. Amen.

2020 Update:  I can attest to the value of widening circles as I begin my life as a widow (that’s the first time I have said or written that word).  Friends and family from everywhere I have lived have offered emotional support, prayer, friendship and even financial support. 

I will never forget October 5, the day Fred died. About ten minutes after I knew that he was really gone, I called the Hospice nurse; she was several miles away.  Then I called a member of my spiritual formation group.  She said, “You can’t be alone. I’m chauffering my grandsons to a sporting event miles away.  I’ll call Mary Ann.”  In less than 20 minutes while the hospice nurse was still preparing Fred, Mary Anne came and acted as my better self, ushering in the ambulance crew, answering questions, crying with me for about 3 hours until my son came and took over.  The friend who arranged for Mary Ann to support me also called all the other members of our group.  I heard from everyone of them within a couple of hours. Sorrow shared is a gift God gives; are we willing to accept it?

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2 Responses to Who Am I When My Body Fails Me? – Part 11: Widening Circles

  1. Norma Hook says:

    You have been in our thoughts and prayers in the loss of Fred.

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