I don’t often have a massage, but I had one for an hour a few days ago. And as usual, I remembered why I should have them more often; somehow I always forget how quickly Harry finds everything that hurts. Harry is a middle-aged masseur who, while short of stature, is big on strength and he pushes, prods and probes my muscles so particularly and persistently that I’m relieved when he finally stops. (He also calls me ‘young lady’ which is as flattering as it is untrue.)
An hour-long massage is time enough not just to free my muscles from tension, but also to free my tired brain from the constraints and constant demands of the day. This week, knowing that all I had to do was to lie there helped me to be fully present and pay attention to the process. Like a free-range chicken out in a grassy paddock, I allowed my brain to roam freely and I was amazed at what I noticed. Like a child in her father’s arms, I allowed my thoughts to rest in God and he graciously showed me things I might not otherwise have seen.
Here’s some of what I discovered.
Messy: Massage is messy. I always leave a lot oilier than when I arrive. Harry cannot relieve the tension in my muscles without first applying oil to his hands and my body; oil eliminates the friction between the skin on his hands and the skin on my body. It makes the process more comfortable and a whole lot more effective. However, until I shower it away, it does leave a greasy residue that tends to spread to everything I wear and everything I touch.
Revelatory: Massage is revelatory. I discover I have a lot more muscles and other anatomical features than I thought I did. I asked Harry why, when he pushed in a certain spot just above my collarbone (halfway between my neck and each shoulder), I felt a strange tightening and tingling sensation that spread outwards and right through to my shoulder socket. “Oh, that would be your …” Harry listed off four or five different muscles I’d never heard of and told me how my nerves were interconnected to everything. And now I wish I could remember what he actually said.
As usual, my particular ignorance of anatomy dissolved into a generalised wonder at the way God designed the human body. But one thing I have learned is that humans have a pressure point on the sole of each foot that connects through the nervous system to the sinuses; apply pressure to the right spot and you’ll feel it in your sinuses. Weird, but true.
Humbling: Massage is humbling. There aren’t too many people in the world who get to see my many physical flaws up close and personal, but it’s an inherent part of Harry’s job description, one he bears patiently and without comment. Of course, there are some parts of my body that remain covered during massage, and that’s the way it should be. Yet, Harry still gets to see the moles, freckles and blemishes, the varicose veins and the skin that’s not as youthful or elastic as it once was. And his expert fingers tell him how toned, or not, my muscles are.
Cooperate: Massage requires me to submit. If I resist the pressure Harry applies, I intensify the pain. But if I accept and mentally enter into the pain, then I cooperate with the process of healing and release. I practised this last time and noticed how unnatural it is to do. My instinct is to tense the muscles that hurt in an attempt to prevent further pain, but doing this only makes them hurt even more. Or I try to think about something else, like what I’m going to cook for dinner, but even that ruse doesn’t work for long.
Memory: Massage brings back memories. It reminds me of things I often prefer to ignore, like the innate weaknesses and old wounds I carry from a life lived. If Harry applies pressure to the right spot on the soles of my feet, even my tired old sinuses respond to it, every single time, and I start coughing. Harry knows not to work too hard on my varicose-veined lower legs (an uncomfortable legacy of pregnancy). And some days, no matter how much heat and massage he applies to my body, nothing overcomes the cold in my toes and fingers, thanks to my woefully inadequate circulation. This week’s massage was one of those days.
Trust: Massage involves trust. In my almost-naked state I trust Harry to treat me with respect, to use his knowledge and skill for my good, relieving the tension stored up in my body. The first time I went to see him, I relied on the recommendations of others I trusted. But with each successive visit, Harry has shown me that I can trust him; he never acts improperly and the results in my body prove his ability and experience, time and time again.
Life: Why am I telling you this? Because like so many other times in my life, God has helped me to find in this ordinary aspect of human life, a compelling metaphor, a word picture, that transports truth and meaning from one thing to another, from something unremarkable to something transcendent.
You see, massage is a lot like my everyday life following Jesus. It’s messy, revelatory and humbling. It requires submission, it revives memories of innate weaknesses and old wounds, and above all it involves trust.
My everyday life following Jesus is messy because although I am redeemed by his blood, this side of heaven it remains a constant fight against temptation and sin and the results are uneven, untidy and underwhelming. My everyday life following Jesus is revelatory because when I’m open and willing to learn, in his Word God shows me the wonder of who he is and what he has done, is doing and will do. And he shows me who he has created me to be as his child. My everyday life following Jesus is humbling because he knows me better than I know myself, even my darkest thoughts and hidden sins, the things I’m most ashamed of. And yet he loves me.
My everyday life following Jesus requires me to submit to God’s discipline, the painful shaping I must not resist if I am to know his forgiveness and grow to resemble my Saviour. My everyday life following Jesus continually reminds me of my innate vulnerability to temptation and my struggle with old patterns of sinful behaviour which sometimes come back to haunt me.
And last of all, my everyday life following Jesus involves trust—trust in him. The better I know him and understand the power and effectiveness of his death and resurrection, the more I can and want to trust him.
But even more than that, I have his example to follow. Jesus submitted to his Father’s will, living a messy, revelatory and humbling life like mine in a world of temptation and sin, and yet because he loved God so completely, he did not fail to live for him perfectly, in spite of the mess. Because the Lord Jesus trusted in his Father’s love so fully, he followed through faultlessly in his mission to seek and save the lost, even though it cost him his life.
In a strange way, my everyday life following Jesus is the best demonstration of why it makes all the sense in the world to give myself into his hands. As I submit to a messy, revelatory and humbling process that reminds me daily of my need for him, what else could I do but trust the one who gave his life for people like me?