The past few months have been a study on the wonder and intricacy of the human body for me. As a former pre-med biology major, I have been geeking out a bit at physical therapy and doctors appointments learning more and more about my amazing (but painful) body and how it operates. It has been a frustrating yet fascinating journey to figure out what is actually wrong (or diseased) in my body.
Though I first felt the pain in my neck, I soon realized that the place you feel the pain is not necessarily the place that has the disease.
For instance, when the doctors were first examining my neck they kept asking me if I had tingling and numbness in my hands (nope). It turns out the most obvious signs of cervical disc damage are not just felt in the neck but in the arms and even fingers.
Likewise as I kept telling people about my migraines they would always ask me where I felt the pain the most (just over my left eye). I had always assumed that the pain over my eye meant the headaches were sinus related. But in truth the source of the headaches has been a spasm in the muscle where my left shoulder meets my neck. There is a nerve that runs from that muscle up to the place above my eye which is why I feel the discomfort there. It is called referred pain. I always thought it strange that my sinus headaches caused a knot in my left shoulder. Who knew I had it backwards?
My latest revelation is that the source of my neck and shoulder pain has been my TMJ all along (well that and anxiety). And the TMJ is caused by… wait for it … poorly aligned teeth. Yes, it is my stress inducing bite that is making my neck and shoulders so out of whack. I never dreamed three months ago that all the problems in my muscles were caused by the angle of my front teeth. But there are muscles and nerves and ligaments whose names I don’t know and had never imagined that connect these separate but interrelated body parts.
The body is an amazing organism indeed.
After I got over the shock of learning I would need braces, I began to meditate on the interconnectedness of it all. It really shouldn’t surprise me that my teeth could affect my neck. After all, one of my favorite Scriptures passage is 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about how all the parts of the body are dependent on one another for their overall health.
And as you might imagine, this is true for more than our physical body as well.
In my husband’s mental health work, he sees a good deal of families. The first person to come in is almost always one of the children. The parents are upset because the child is acting out or having problems in school. But about two sessions in he usually realizes the root problem does not lie with the child, the child is merely the one expressing the pain. Maybe the parents are fighting or the family is in a particularly stressful time. Because a family is an interconnected system the disease affects everyone within it, especially someone as vulnerable as a child. To truly help the child, he usually end up treating the whole family. When the parents marriage improves, so does the kid’s grades.
One thing affects another. For we are much more connected than we could ever imagine.
Though it scares me to think that this interconnection is true on a global scale as well, I know that it must be true. And not just in a “if a butterfly in Madagascar beats its wings” sort of way.
What scares me most is that I know my life affects and is affected by the child in Africa that will die later today because he contracted a preventable disease from dirty drinking water.
And that my life affects and is affected by girls in Afghanistan who are not allowed to get a proper education.
We look at the world and see all of its problems, but what if the root of the problem is not in Africa or Afghanistan? What if Africa and Afghanistan are just the members of our global body expressing the most pain?
Where is the root of the disease? And dear God, what if the root disease has something to do with me?
Does it matter if I get a new sweater for Christmas instead of donating money to Living Water?
To be honest, my eyes have probably been so blinded for so long I can’t even fathom the ways that my first world lifestyle impacts a teenager in Indonesia, but I know it does. And moreover that teenager in Indonesia’s life affects me. Until they are truly well neither will I be.
We are bound together by ligaments and nerves whose names I know not nor ever dreamed of.
But somehow, somewhere they are there. Tying us all together into one big body.
If you like me worry about how the body of our world is suffering from all manner of illness and war, will you join me in prayers for clarity? To understand where the disease truly lies? For until we can make the crooked places straight, there will always be pain.
Dear God, bring us healing. And not just for us, but for all.