What a Massage Taught Me about Spiritual Growing Pains
When my back locked up and I couldn't sleep, I emergency dialed a masseuse. The next day, she gave me a lesson in spiritual growing pains.
After months of stress, my back locked up. I’ve long known back pain. I’ve grown to tolerate it—medicating with a heating pad nightly, cracking my back and neck several times a day, rotating my shoulders, switching positions.
But this was different.
I was having such discomfort, particularly in my right shoulder blade, that I had restless nights no matter what my methods.
Ramping up my do-it-yourself treatment to placing a pillow between my blades and lower back, and even more cushions under my legs, were no solution.
I needed a specialist if I was ever going to rest, if I was ever going to relieve some of the tension my body had been taking on in it’s own physical demands and from ruthless assaults of a warring mind bogged down by negative self-talk, a dead-end job, debt, aging parents, motherhood, housework, wifely duties, and an endless list of to-do’s.
Desperately, I phoned a day spa in San Gabriel, requesting an appointment as soon as possible. I had never been there before.
I was lured in by their price of a one-hour, full-body massage for $25, and was further convinced by the trail of 4-star reviews from customers on Yelp.
From that, I had hope I was going to the right person for help.
I arrived the next day at 11:00 a.m. By 11:05 a.m., I was ushered to a dimly lit room with a massaging table, Zen music, no instructions, and a curtain that when she pulled it closed still left me exposed.
I became confused by the discomfort I felt versus what I expected to happen.
With all the reviews, the one thing I didn’t consider was whether this was a clothes-on or clothes-off massage.
I wanted to undress and be in my natural element so the masseuse could dig in; however, the environmental cues left me paused.
Going for the safest option, I slid off my shoes and sat on the table, positioning myself parallel to the slit in the curtain. I figured my masseuse (or anyone for that matter) would see me and instruct me when they passed by.
As I waited, my anxiety and desperation mounted. I was willing to take any touch at this point.
She finally comes to the curtain and before she opens it fully, our eyes meet through the crack. Hers seemed to tell a story of bewilderment, just like mine.
"Undress," that is all she said, and again I was left in a room with a drape that wouldn't shut.
I walked over to the furthest wall in the room to get coverage. I began peeling off layers of clothes. Right when I felt it was a good time, I rushed to the table. I slid my naked body awkwardly under the thin, dryer sheet-like covering and the slightly thicker rectangular, wool-textured blanket.
I planted my face into the molded cup at the head of the table. I lay there wondering what to expect after this disastrous first impression. Was she capable of resolving my problems? I didn't know.
She enters. I track her footsteps with my ears and as she draws closer, our energies start to collide. With each movement, I become more aware that it's about to begin.
She pulls the furry blanket down and leaves the thin sheet up over my back, coming just an inch or two below the tops of my shoulders.
“Ooooookay,” I told myself. This was not starting off like any massage I've ever had. I began to question my decision about choosing this place and started to doubt the Yelpers.
After pondering this in a snap-of-a-finger moment, she placed a light touch at my shoulders. It was so tender and comforting. She hadn’t even dug in, but I knew she was the one (Marry me, Linda!).
Her touch proceeded to bounce between gentle and sharp. Light presses attended to soft areas that were tension-free, while targeted pressure points were kneaded deeply.
She did a dry rub, then a wet rub. I’m not talking about seasoning BBQ-quality meats here, guys, but it was just as strategic.
The dry rub allowed for traction. Her digits could grip the surface of my skin, allowing her to rearrange my muscles and their fibers. Her elbows could dig in without sliding. And her forearms could work like rolling pins, ironing out clumps in this doughy body.
There were points where she dug so deep I felt she struck a nerve. Those were intense, teeth-grinding moments where I seized up, trying to use my stacked up muscles (and fat) as a barrier between her elbow and the pain.
That did nothing but cause more agony. I needed to submit to the pain and to the bodywork specialist. Fighting, as I've learned before, will only leave me bruised and sore for several days to come.
Once wrestled into submission, she introduced the wet rub. The heated oils hydrated and provided warmth to her rhythmic glide.
Now, instead of rearranging me, she was evening things out. Oddly, she was able to draw on the same levels of intensities, but how they felt to me was different. There was something soothing and tolerable about the coating.
In the midst of this pain and bliss, I found myself thinking of our spiritual lives.
We know suffering well; our souls knot up with every tear-jerking experience. We try to relieve the hurt by medicating with DIY tricks like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, work, extreme workouts, shopping, social media, any antidote of our choice.
These are temporary fixes. They only dull the pain of what's continuing to manifest under the surface and never serve as the cure.
We knot up more and more below, eventually coming to a place of desperation.
We phone God in prayer, panicked and looking for a cheap fix. He picks up. We schedule an appointment. As we arrive at our location, we have hope based on others' reviews. We heard God can help; we heard He can heal.
Yet, our initial experience with Him doesn't quite match the promises. He leads us into a dark room with no instruction, just us exposed and confused about the next steps.
We wait and wait on Him, only to receive a simple word like "undress." Then, He's off again.
We hesitantly do as He says and then awkwardly place ourselves in a position to be worked on. He enters the room and we listen for his steps and anticipate healing.
When He only pulls back one layer, this leaves us with doubt. It's not until He places His hands on us do we feel Him and His comfort. He doesn't even dig in and we are all ready for that deeper relationship.
The problem is we come to Him without first assessing the cost to see if there is enough currency within us to finish what was started (Luke 14:28). We look to the promise and tend to forget the painful journey we must endure to get to that place of wellness.
Like a deep tissue massage, pain is a part of any spiritual landscape. It takes a lot of soul rearrangement and discomfort to break up months, even years, of compressed hurt, anger, bitterness, grief, trauma, disappointment, failure, fear, mistrust, guilt, and shame.
And sometimes the pain is so deep that when He digs in a nerve is struck.
But His timing, like Linda’s, is perfect. Just when we don’t think we can take the pain anymore, He eases up and moves to a new spot, giving some reprieve before He comes back to it.
He switches us between a disrupting dry rub season then moves us into one that is warm, wet, and soothing to our souls. The levels of intensity are the same, but how we manage is different.
So, grind your teeth as I did on that massage table and lean into the pain, lean into your provider: God. On the other side is a body-altering, I mean life-altering experience.