In J. Barrie Shepherd’s book, Faces at the Manger, he offers that perhaps one of the reasons the holy family was visited by a ragtag group of shepherds, and not more important sophisticated guests, was because the shepherds were the only ones who listened and responded to the message of the Angel.
“It’s almost as if that angel had already tried the innkeeper, but the innkeeper had no time…already tried the soldiers, but they were having too good a time; and finally, as a last resort, had come upon this pack of shepherds. And these, at last, were folk who could hear…the best good news this world has ever heard.”[i]
In this life, seemingly important messages are flying at us non-stop. Rather than discern which are important, we instead learn to tune them out. We do this a great deal with our health and bodies. And to the detriment of our health.
Our bodies have a language all their own. Pain. Fatigue. Inflammation. Do you understand what your body is saying with these messages and why? Are you even listening?
When asked that, some of my patients have responded in frustration, “My body is saying that it hates me. It’s in full rebellion.”
Can you relate? Being a good listener of our bodies takes practice, patience, perseverance, and more practice.
Allow me to walk you through some questions.
- When you feel that fatigue, do you just push through? It may mean you are not breathing deeply enough and need to take some deeper breaths and equalize the oxygen/CO2 ratios. It could be that you are dehydrated and need a swig or two of water. Or perhaps you’ve been sitting forever and need to give the musculoskeletal system something more challenging to do; the muscles and neurological system need to be “reactivated.”
- What happens if you don’t listen to those whispers of “Hey buddy, I need some water here. Grab that water bottle,” or “Dude, get your butt out of that chair,
- What if somebody did that to you? What do you do when you don’t think you’ve been heard? How do you behave when you feel ignored? Probably like me, you repeat yourself louder than before.
Your body will have to speak louder to get your attention. In the body’s case, this can “sound” like mild pain due to the increased acid levels brought on by shallow breathing or dehydration, or the increased tension in your musculoskeletal tissue from being inactive.
Is it as simple as that? It can be.
When we don’t listen to simple hints, the body will resort to yelling.
We yell at each other when we don’t feel heard or it seems nothing is being done to change the situation. Raising our voice feels effective, but it isn’t, which is probably why there isn’t an account of angels yelling. (Except in the Book of Revelation, where apparently a lot of people aren’t listening).
So what does a yelling body look like? It hurts. A lot. And often. It also can get sick often. Or seriously. Or chronically.
If your knee is hurting, your body may be saying, “Um, I need more power. Where are the glutes?” or “More core, please.”
If you are getting sick frequently (more than once or twice a year), it could be that you are missing out on the primo sleep this side of midnight. Yes, 2 hours of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 4 hours after midnight[ii] because slow-wave sleep occurs best prior to midnight and is associated with growth hormone. Growth hormone is critical for the repair processes in our bodies.
And if you do listen well and do tend to your body’s hints and requests for attention, what then? Will it get more and more demanding or will it chill? Chances are, it will chill and heal, because the brain, which is ever monitoring your body, will be satisfied that issues are being taken care of satisfactorily. And it will stop sending out messages of emergency to tend to.
Does that mean if I listen perfectly, I’ll never get sick or be in pain or fatigued? If you and I lived in a perfect world, maybe. But, since we can’t do anything perfectly on this side of the grave, (sorry for the news flash to all the Perfectionists), we can do better. We can be more helpful with and attentive to our bodies.
Now, back to those shepherds. After they heard the message from the angel, and after they had seen the baby in the manger, they returned, praising God and rejoicing. They were grateful and they shared the good news they had witnessed.
When we listen and (dare I say) obey our bodies, or at least interact with them in healthier, and more respectful ways, we learn, benefit, and grow. We better respond to the messages and are thankful our bodies actually speak to us.
Personally, I am grateful to God that our bodies are designed such that we don’t always have to be at the whims of forces beyond us or the dysfunction within us. By responding appropriately to our bodies’ requests we can support our own healing.
It takes a pause. It requires openness and listening. Because if we don’t, the message just may pass us by, much to our profound loss and injury or serious illness.
[i] Shepherd, J. Barrie. Faces at the Manger. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1992.
[ii] Van Cauter E, Leproult R, Plat L. 2000. Age-related changes in slow wave sleep and REM sleep and relationship with growth hormone and cortisol levels in healthy men.
JAMA. Aug 16;284(7):861-8.