No words for these watermarks

(or the role of rest in suffering)

I used to think pain could be pretty. Surely there was an explanation for every ache, and a convenient way to find it. I don’t think that way anymore.

I’m sure you know the feeling – your throat squirms hot and dry, tightened by strings you couldn’t venture to name. You dam the water behind your eyes, but still it steals away through that trickle from your nose.

Water has a funny way of making things real. It can wait a while, but eventually it must fall. Thanks, gravity.

Sometimes tears are the kind of water that wash slow, cool, and clean. But just as easily, they can joke around as exactly the opposite: hot, peppery, mocking. These are wordless tears. Catching in the corners of your mouth, you hope to taste their explanation: “Hey, this is me; here’s why I came; have a great day!” Instead, you taste the return-mail of your own questions.

No prodding, flattering, or threatening will make these tears produce an answer. They just are. These are the tears of long-term pain.

Long-term pain: a phrase which stirs a slurry of sounds and images in my mind. It is a hurricane all of us eventually witness or endure. Maybe you feel like you’ve been trapped in its current long enough to make a sad sort of home. Maybe you’ve watched someone fight it so long you wish you could take their place. Or maybe, you’ve built high enough walls around yourself to screen it from your sight. I’ve done all three.


Over the past two years, I’ve slowly been swept into the waters of an unexplained chronic illness. From dancing on a sandy shore to frantically treading water I can’t see the end of, I have definitely gifted my fair share of wordless tears to the murky sea around me.

I don’t know why I am in this water, but I also think that is a rather silly question to be asking while I’m in it. The better question would be, how should I react to this water? I could fight until my muscles fail; I could let go and sink; or I could roll over and float – resist, give up, or rest.

We have three choices in long-term pain. Either we resist, we give up, or we rest. 

Now, I’m the sort of person who likes to try it all… I mean, I mix upwards of four cereals together in the morning for variety. So believe me when I say, I’ve tried all three reactions to my own unexplained pain. And after doing that, I’m here to trade my doubts and strivings for the third choice: rest.

Imagine you’re literally overwhelmed by a swell of water. If you’re like me, you first panic and swim. But then your muscles start to taste the futility, and the idea of giving up begins to bargain for more thought-space. Maybe you should invite her in. What’s the harm in that? …until you start to see where this is going, and instinct begs you not to follow her to the deep. Resist, or give up: both reactions fail.

But there’s always the “dead-man’s-float.” Try not to get hung-up on the name.

The thing about the dead-man’s-float is that it inherently requires you to rest.The method is simple: flop onto your belly, spread your arms and legs, and relax (face in the water). Come up for breath only when you need it, then dip back down. Terrifying, but viable. It’s not as flashy as fighting, but it’s infinitely more promising that giving up.

Though it might not be a literal hurricane, I’m starting to learn that long-term suffering is much the same. In the wake of it, it’s natural to resist; it’s tempting to give up; but it’s promising to rest.

In suffering it’s natural to resist, tempting to give up, but promising to rest.

But now we’re both wondering what this actually looks like.

What does it mean to rest when you’re suffering?

I’m going to let that question swim untill next week – keep an eye out for part two!

“Watermarks” PART II – NEXT WEEK

2 thoughts on “No words for these watermarks

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