Three years ago, on a beautiful February day, my husband, son, and I hiked Kennesaw Mountain with some friends. A few minutes after arriving home I started feeling very sick. I had had Crohn’s disease for almost seven years but it had never been as severe as it became after that day. Three hospitalizations, five surgeries, and countless diets, alternative remedies, and drugs later, I’m finally improving. So, this past Sunday I decided I wanted to go hike Kennesaw Mountain again in honor of my triumph. But just as we were getting ready to go, I started feeling sick again.
I knew there was a good chance it would end up being nothing (thankfully, I’m doing fine!), but I also knew there was as good a chance I’d end up back in the hospital again. I considered not going on the hike because I worried I’d feel bitter if I did end up sick. As if I had come to praise God for his blessing, only to have it snatched away like a cruel trick.
We went on the hike anyway. And it was a triumph.
The whole way up we listened to my 3.5-year-old narrate the landscape, (Mommy, LOOK. LOOK how big that tree is!) and sing songs and collect various earthy treasures. We listened to his little brother (who wasn’t with us on the first hike!) cheer up fellow hikers with his giggles and babble. My husband and I talked about everything as we always have. The sun shone down on the swaying daffodils. And, most of all, we were happy.
At the top of the mountain I realized: I may be only a little bit stronger, physically, than I was three years ago. But my soul? My soul has been transformed. I may not be 100% better but my life is 100% more beautiful.
It is so tempting to believe in a physical, earthly utopia. It is so tempting to believe we can alleviate all suffering and reverse death and its consequences with just a little more coconut oil or a few more trips to the gym. There’s so much motivational jargon out there in our news feeds. Take charge of your health. You can get in shape. You can heal yourself. And so much of it is good. People need to know that sugar can kill you too early and that antibiotics won’t do anything for a cold. It is absolutely our responsibility to take responsibility for our bodies. But it should always be with a healthy level of detachment and awareness that we can only do so much. The body positive movement has encouraged people to stop judging their worth based off of numbers or measurements or bikini pictures. But I think a new neurosis has come into the spotlight. If we aren’t judging based off of body mass, we’re judging based off of health and energy. We say health is a purer, truer goal than attractiveness, and it may be. But health is still passing. Our worth doesn’t come from our health.
What if we actually started qualifying our lives according to the state of our souls? I’m not saying physical or worldly achievements don’t matter. But how often we put them first on our list! How easy it is for me to obsess over when I was the sickest, what made a difference, how much better I’m getting, etc. But what about my soul? What’s happened to it along the way? How did I let the various pains and pleasures of my life transform me?
I may not always have all of my organs inside me. But my relationships and the love I participate in will never die. As I compared the pictures of my 3.5-year-old on the mountain three years ago, and on the mountain the other day, I was filled with so much joy. We have been somewhat limited at times due to my sickness over the past three years. But what fun we have had! What memories we have shared! The things my children have learned! The adventures my husband and I have embarked on together. The love that has grown between all of us. It reminds me what I need to be reminded of again and again— that life can blossom despite this earthly suffering and especially how, in the midst of such suffering, it often blossoms into something more beautiful.