I worship with my body. I always have.
As a child, it was through dance, then in high school with sports, where I wrote my favorite Bible verses on my soccer cleats and held hands to pray with the opponent at the end of every game. Faith was something visceral and tactile.
As an adult, movement is still the way I praise God. Long runs and surf sessions are my primary mode of prayer, and I blast the Christian artist Lauren Daigle during hard workouts. I like to think this is how I was created: not with musical gifts or an artistic touch, but with joyful movements that show the world how good our Creator is, how magnificently He created us.
But right now I can’t worship with my body. A recent accident left me with a shattered knee – one that doesn’t allow for dancing and running and surfing. At least not now.
The doctors say it will improve with time and surgery and rehab. They say the healing process is long, but I will get a lot of movement in my knee back. It won’t ever be the same, they said. I may not surf the big waves like I used to, or finish triathlons with a big, wide smile on my face. But it should heal. It will.
How Long, O Lord?
In the wake of this loss, I have experienced grief like the waves I would no longer be surfing, and it is something that many people struggle to understand. “Running and surfing aren’t everything!” they say, with pure intentions. “It’s a good time to rest! To watch all the movies you want, to read all the books you can!”
They are not wrong, but I don’t think they understand. I have not only lost the use of a leg, but a part of my identity, and one of my truest ways to tune into God.
I have tried to find new ways to praise. I open my Bible and bow my head and I still turn the volume high on worship music. But it doesn’t feel the same. The joy is drained from my worship. And grief overtakes me once again.
From the depths of my despair, these verses from the book of Psalms keep turning in my head:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul And have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
How long, how long, how long. These words ring truer in my ears every time I read them. I imagine David’s fist balled up in frustration, first at God for “hiding his face,” then at himself for being unable to get up out of the human-centered sorrow.
This is a feeling I know well.
Because I am Shaken
I have lived my life up to this point through fearless, rose-colored glasses – ones that once told me no mountain was too high and no distance was too long for the body with which God had blessed me. My days were consumed with finding his glory at the end of an accomplishment, highlighting the beauty of creation and the wonder of our bodies through the community I created around mutual physical feats.
My prayers these days are no longer defined by the playful exuberance that I am known for. They have morphed into a more desperate plea that feels unnatural to my usually carefree demeanor. It is a strange shift that does not yet feel natural in my body or my soul. And yet I feel my heart belting out the words of David’s prayer once again:
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (Psalm 13:3-4)
The accident has left me shaken, not only from the physical injury I experienced but also from the emotional and spiritual toll it has taken. I find myself scrambling for an identity that has not yet been discovered. I am like Paul, who writes in 2 Corinthians 19 that “…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me…” (v 7).
And as I seek to uncover this new version of myself, one who is no longer defined by boundless physical joy and unrelenting optimism, I realize my enemy is not my lack of mobility or a God who has forsaken me. My enemy is an ego that is afraid of letting go of the person I once was – to discover the person I am already created to be.
But I Have Trusted in Your Steadfast Love
I am learning there are seasons in life, and praise can look different on both the outside and the inside. For a long time, joy came easily to me. It was something that burst from my veins and exploded from my chest early in the morning. It happened when I tied on my running shoes or parked my car in the mild light of the surf beach. Praise felt like cool water or early morning sunlight.
But in this season, thankfulness feels like a crossroads where I am asked to make a choice: to praise or to fear. To retract or expand into this new definition of who I am and who I could become. Despite my grief and regardless of the state of my soul, I can choose to wake up and acknowledge the one who gave me the ability to feel and heal – and praise. Or, I can choose the chrysalis and safety of an unfair world that stripped me of my chosen identity before I was ready to give it up.
I come to the final words of David’s prayer and know he has chosen a similar path that I am determined to walk. It is one of faith in the unknown, and praise despite it all:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:3-4).
My worth is not determined by the method of my praise, and therefore my heartache will not overtake me. My praise can be joy-filled or sorrow-crushed and still be accepted and gently held by our Father. God even says this to Paul: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
And whether I am strong, weak, or redefining how I show up in this life, His words will still be the same, “I have called you by name, and you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).