He Makes Me Lie Down

By Charlie Curran

He makes me lie down. . . .” Those are words I have read aloud at dozens of funerals. The 23rd Psalm seems perfect for those occasions. I never knew those words would come to mean so much to me.

On a busy Monday in April 2006, I found myself placed under the weight of those words. It had been a busy day at the office. Meetings, phone calls, the usual “Monday stuff” for a preacher. I had noticed during the day I was a bit agitated. So did my secretary. But I pressed on. That’s what I do.

Late in the afternoon, my wife, Pam, came to the office to see me. I began to unload some of the baggage of the day on her. Then I began to feel strange.

The right side of my face went numb. My teeth felt like they had been shot up with Novocain. I felt a burst of pain in my head. My throat constricted. My right arm went weak, and my words began to slur. My vision was blurry.

I looked at my wife and said, “I don’t feel right.” She immediately became concerned. Those were not words she had heard me say very often in 25 years.

We rushed to a local urgent care center and then I found myself in an ambulance headed to the hospital.

The emergency medical technician assured me it was going to be OK. My vital signs were stable. Looking out the back of the ambulance, I could see Pam following in a car.

The word stroke had been mentioned. Stroke. Incapacitated. Unable to work. Unable to support my family. Unable to talk. I wondered what Pam was thinking. I knew she was praying. She was scared and so was I.

After two days in the hospital and several tests, it was confirmed that I had a mild stroke. How could this happen to an active 47-year-old such as me? Never mind that I had a lot of stress, was very overweight, did not exercise, and had terrible eating habits. This could not be happening to me.

“He makes me lie down . . . “

In the days that followed, I had trouble carrying on conversations. Subsequent tests revealed two areas of damage in my brain. This contributed to a feeling of being able to “think” conversations, but not speak them. I would be talking and suddenly just stop. I would have to start the sentence or thought over, sometimes multiple times in order to get through that roadblock. It was like my brain was going 90 mph, but my mouth would go only 45 mph.

I had trouble negotiating simple tasks, and fatigue overwhelmed me. For nearly three weeks I did little but sleep.

I now know I was very blessed. This was the proverbial wake-up call. God was in this.

“He makes me lie down . . . “

God knew more about the year just past than anyone. He knew about the struggles with a capital campaign and a relocation program. He knew about the sudden death of our business manager a year earlier. He knew about the energy I had spent helping a family through two cancer deaths.

I really believe God said, “Enough of this. You have to do things a different way.”

While God made me lie down, I had to decide what I would get out of a rest. Initially, I thought I would be off a couple weeks and then resume normal activities. But still I had no energy. I pushed back my return to four weeks.

The elders had different ideas. They asked me to consider a sabbatical, as long as I needed, to get back to full strength. I resisted, but God impressed on me I needed the time. Not just for physical recuperation, but for emotional and spiritual recuperation as well. I needed some time away from ministry and its demands, to see what it was doing to me.

“He makes me lie down . . . “

The sabbatical was strange at first. It took me a month to get to the point where I felt good enough to start asking questions about myself, ministry, and what God had in store for me in the coming 25 years or so.

I took great comfort in reading Scripture. I read through the lives of Moses, Joseph, Job, and Elijah. I read the books of Ecclesiastes and Psalms, and then the Gospels. Through this biblical journey, I saw little glimpses of what it means to be made to lie down. I learned a great deal about how God unfolds his plan, in his time and in his way. I began to learn more about living life step by step, rather than event to event.

I knew I needed to make changes. I started walking. Two months into it, I started working out with a friend at the local gym. The weight began to fall off.

My ministry needed to change too. Along with the gracious offer of a sabbatical, the elders also made provision to hire a business manager. He is a good and trusted friend, one I believe can handle the administrative duties of a large and growing staff, building projects, and other administrative demands.

I returned to the pulpit some six months after the stroke. I manage my day much differently than before. I limit my exposure to stressful situations. I am much quicker to hand things off to others who can manage them. I work at home much more. I realized I can be more productive in studying, reading, and writing messages at home than at the office. I rest each day. A nap is a good thing (even if it’s just 30 minutes). I carefully guard my Saturdays because if I do not rest on Saturday, I am weak on Sunday. I take Mondays off . . . mostly for recovery time.

“He makes me lie down . . . “

I have been blessed. The elders and staff have been great to me. They are concerned. They see changes in me, and they tell me things are better. But they also respect my physical limitations. They believe in me.

Our growing congregation has been incredible. There was so much concern for so long. The people of the church seem glad to have me back in the pulpit, even though I am not as engaged in the daily aspects of church leadership as I was a year ago.

I needed to be made to lay down. I needed to come to the point where I would really begin caring for my body. I had tried to manage my weight in the past, but it didn’t work. But now I eat healthier, exercise daily, and get enough sleep. All three of these were out of balance in my life.

The best thing that happened while I was “lying down” was this: the church continued on. Our staff followed the plan for the year. The church members kept inviting friends, and the church never stopped growing. The church is stronger now than it was when I left. The future is exciting. I get to participate in ministry at a church I love.

It is different now. I have experienced very healthy doses of grace from the church. I also have more accountability now. I accept that I cannot charge out in front and lead the cavalry up every hill.

I have learned that quiet reflection is a tool God uses to shape me. I have given permission to those closest to me to examine my life from time to time. When I get out of balance, I want them to say something to me. Why? Well, it sure beats having a stroke and being made to lie down.

As a result I find myself with a new perspective on the next 25 years. I think they can be the best 25 years of my life in every way. It is a good place to be.

And from time to time, I hope I will choose to lie down. . . It’s better that way.


 

 

Charlie Curran is senior minister with First Christian Church of Owasso, Oklahoma.

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