“We need to operate, it’s urgent. You’ll be taken to theatre today.”
At 29, I was young, enthusiastic and about to start my third year in Rwanda. Instead, after a long stream of stomach pain, I was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. I was admitted to hospital, hoping to manage with medication, but unfortunately the cyst ruptured and caused internal bleeding. I was taken to theatre in Rwanda, alone and very frightened.
Following the surgery, I was keen to resume work and life. However, the surgery I had can take months to recover from, and ongoing pain and questions around chronic disease conditions forced me to make the painful decision to return to my passport country for a season. I was angry, hurt and confused. Why was my body so weak it couldn’t handle the stress of life overseas? Why couldn’t I just continue as before?
Since being back, ongoing health issues, including post-surgery complications have resulted in two trips to the emergency room, and multiple scans and meetings with doctors. I’ve also been diagnosed with burnout.
Suddenly my whole focus has shifted from who I serve, where I am in the world and what I’m doing, to managing pain every day. I’m severely limited compared to what I did before. I’m in constant pain, and due to the burnout, completely exhausted. My mind wants to keep going but I can manage a short walk or coffee out and that’s my lot. I feel like my body has failed me. It has let me down.
I have always felt called to East Africa, having spent a number of years in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, and grown up around East African influences. But now my body is stopping me from fulfilling my calling, and being who I am.
Except, being ‘in’ Africa is not ‘who I am.’ I am on the painful journey of realizing that my physicality is intrinsically related to who I am, whilst my physical presence in a place does not equal my identity. I’m learning to love my body, and have compassion while also struggling with pain, exhaustion and grief.
I’m learning that God loving and creating me means He loves and created my body, as well as my soul and spirit, and when my body is hurt or limited and I can’t be where I feel He wants me to be, His love for me doesn’t change.
I’ve been working so hard for so long to fulfil a calling that He put on my life that I’ve sacrificed my physical and mental health in the process. My burnout has shown me that it’s not what God intended for us to keep pushing, and that when He created us, it was in a way that is hard wired to need rest. My body hasn’t failed, it’s reminding me who I am, a daughter of the King, but not King, a servant, not a slave, a whole person, not just a calling.
When I decided to leave Rwanda, I felt the Lord say to me Psalm 127:2— “He grants rest to those he loves.” I’m learning that physical rest doesn’t mean He loves me less. It’s an indication of his love for me.
How do you take time for physical rest, knowing that’s an outworking of God’s love for you? Has your body stopped you ever doing what you feel God has called you to? How have you reconciled that?
How do you hold on to the physicality of life with Christ, especially overseas?
Is your identity linked to your physical presence in your host country? How do you hold the truth in the midst of those voices?