• jennifer raper

Don't Tell Me I'm Strong

I have to be honest--when someone says “you’re so strong,” it kinda makes me want to puke! I know it’s a compliment, and I appreciate the intention behind it; however, I feel it has certain expectations that don’t sit well with me.

Strong in our society looks heroic. It boasts of performing amazing feats while ignoring pain. We love recounting those stories. The football player gets slammed down onto the ground by the opponent, a snap is heard and a bone pokes out through his uniform. The crowd is silent as he lies there for a moment. Then---wait---he’s standing up, he’s walking, he’s going to stay in the game. The fans cheer with joy. The ball is thrown to him in the next play, and he runs down the field choking back tears of pain as he crosses the goal line triumphantly. Touchdown! Everyone goes wild as the commentator proclaims “what amazing strength was displayed here today!”

This makes for a great movie, and fortunately we have come to a time where our athletes are not put back onto the field after an injury but rather given every resource available to heal as quickly and thoroughly as possible. When it comes to emotional healing, however, we don’t assign it the same priority. We don’t like to hear stories of someone resting, reading, taking walks, journaling or seeing a therapist after a heartbreak or disappointment. We don’t call those folks strong. We want the tale of the person who was knocked down and popped right back up as though nothing ever happened.

The problem is that way of dealing with injury comes at the expense of full healing.

When I was in college I was in a severe car accident. I was lucky to have survived and only suffered a concussion and several broken bones. The breaks in my hand were found at the hospital. They reset the bones and put on a cast for a few weeks. Everything mended nicely, and I have never had any issues with that hand.

My foot was another story. I had such excessive swelling that they could not see the fracture on the x-ray and sent me home with instructions to begin walking on it as soon as possible. Every time I put weight on that ankle, the pain was so excruciating that tears came to my eyes. I was determined to follow orders and kept at it until I was fully walking on it a couple of weeks later. Most of the pain subsided within a few months, although I still had a limp because I could not bend it completely. Over the next few years, the pain gradually returned and became unbearable once more. A doctor then discovered the break that was missed years earlier and concluded that my walking on it before it healed properly had done further damage. He performed surgery, and I regained about 90% of my mobility.

My point to this story is that being “brave” and “strong,” pressing through immense pain only provides a temporary benefit.

In the long run, we suffer the consequences. We will always have a limp or a weak spot. Add multiple injuries over time, and we are seriously held back. Imagine what that would look like if it were on the outside of our bodies. We would see a man hobbling around with an elbow that won’t straighten, a knee that won’t bend, an ankle that’s crooked and gashes all over that bleed from time to time when they are bumped. We would wonder why in the world he didn’t get treatment.

The same applies to the inside.

Why would we not use every resource available to heal our inner wounds?

Left alone, they may in fact make progress. We will likely feel less pain over time. We can resume life and limp on pretending nothing ever happened. If, however, we choose to engage in every activity possible to assist in that healing, we have the best chance of regaining our full happiness, peace and fulfillment more quickly.

After my most recent “injury” last year, I decided to do things differently than I had in the past. Instead of hopping up and jumping back on the field, I invested in my recovery. I gave myself time to grieve. I dealt with the residual feelings of failure that it left behind. I examined all of those negative thoughts swirling around in my head and replaced them with messages that were true, edifying and empowering. The result was remarkable! I am the least anxious I have been in years, I am excited about my life again and I handle the stresses of each day with much more ease.

Sometimes strength is found in the quiet stillness. It's often found in the patience to make things right, and much of the time true strength will never be seen by others. Make your healing a priority. Give time and attention to becoming whole. Take the hard road. It will be worth it in the end!

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