After a year of having an on-again, off-again “funny stomach” that I blamed on bad food or bad-for-me food or a passing flu, I woke up one morning with excruciating pain just under my right rib cage.
A few hours later it passed, but I knew I couldn’t blame the episode on bad food or the flu. Within a few weeks I saw several doctors who concluded that my gallbladder was the culprit. Surgery was scheduled, but in the meantime I still had graduate classes, work, and household duties.
It was difficult to keep up with my responsibilities. The pain was so strong sometimes that all I could do was lie still, nibbling on crackers to try to settle my stomach. Additionally, I was relearning what I could and couldn’t eat, which meant I spent a lot of time worrying about what I’d eat at weekly work lunches and how that would affect me. Plus there were all the doctor appointments. I had blood drawn at least once a week for months and saw four different doctors during the ordeal.
One professor showed me endless grace that semester. I missed several classes, couldn’t help out with a group presentation, and was behind on a few assignments. Each time, though, she assured me that whatever I could do would be enough. I couldn’t help but feel guilty.
After surgery, friends and family helped out. One person stayed with me while my husband, Jim, refilled my pain medication. Another brought magazines and some post-surgery food. Some friends brought food from a local BBQ restaurant for Jim to eat so he didn’t have to share my bland meals. Despite their generosity, all I could focus on was how terrible I looked in front of guests.
Jim helped the most post-surgery, and he seemed happy to do so. I quickly learned how unwilling I was to accept his help, though. The night I arrived home from surgery, for example, I felt great, so I made some oatmeal and sat to watch TV with Jim. The shows lifted my spirits and reminded me that this nightmare would soon be over.
At 10 p.m., everything changed. I attempted to get out of the chair and realized that I couldn’t. Jim had fallen asleep on the couch next to me. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I carefully tried to wiggle out of the chair, using my arm strength instead of my abdominal muscles. As I stood, I felt a ripping sensation inside. The sharpness took my breath away, and I immediately started to sob. The sobbing, though, shook my stomach, which increased the pain, which made me want to cry even more. I tried to sit back down and discovered I couldn’t do that either.
I stood there, wanting to scream in agony, yet knowing that too would hurt my incision. I managed to make enough noise to wake my husband. Startled by the terror in my eyes, he quickly got up, walked me slowly to bed, and supported me as I lay down. He propped up my head and shoulders with pillows, got me more pain medication and cold water to sip, and sat with me while I regained composure. For the next five days, Jim had to help me sit up and lie down. He brought me food, entertained me with games, and distracted me when I felt nauseated or in pain.
You’d think I would be grateful, that I’d accept his help more than willingly. Yet just a few days later, I tried to sit up on my own. I felt stronger, and the pain was nearly gone. But then the terrible ripping pain came again, all because I wanted so desperately to be independent.
As I lay there helpless, I had to face the fact that I needed to accept the help Jim and others were giving me. I knew deep down this was a pride issue. I didn’t want to need anyone. I wanted to be independent, to prove my worth, to contribute. I hated having to depend on others so much. I sent up a prayer, Why do I keep doing this, God? Why am I so eager to prove myself? I determined to be better at accepting my husband’s help. But it was still a slow process.
Shortly after returning to classes, my grace-filled professor gave us an assignment: keep a journal of grace-sightings that week, times when people showed us grace, or when we were able to show others grace. In her wisdom, she stated that showing others grace was an opportunity to bless someone, and accepting grace was an opportunity to allow someone else to be a blessing. That shift in perspective was exactly what I needed.
I began to see grace differently, and I was more willing to accept grace from others, knowing that I was allowing them to be a blessing. Even, perhaps, allowing God to work through them to bless and provide for me. I became less obsessed with proving my worth, and more comfortable resting in the worth that God has already bestowed on me. Although I still fight it sometimes, I’m learning to accept grace from others more and more. The true gift of grace is to know that we are full of worth, regardless of what we do (or don’t do), and to be freed from the never-ending treadmill of trying to prove ourselves.
How well do you accept grace from others? Are there times when it’s easier or more difficult?