With a gasp and a lurch, I centered my spine on the x-ray table. The imaging tech clucked in sympathy. "What did you do to your back, hon?" she asked. And I had to admit, I didn't do anything. And yet here I was, hardly able to move. All day and all night, I found myself in an invisible "cell of Little Ease," with no way of resting, because every position brought a different kind of pain. I couldn't sleep, but I couldn't get out of bed without screaming. Standing up straight was an act of courage. The only time my leg wasn't burning was when it was numb. And yet I hadn't done anything.
Which, it turn out, was the problem. I didn't exercise, I didn't bother sit or stand up straight, I didn't move around much at all. That's what was causing this incredible, searing, round-the-clock pain: nothing.
When I heard that I couldn't get surgery to correct the problem, I was crestfallen. I know that sounds stupid, but all I wanted was to lie down and go to sleep, and have someone just . . . remove the problem. Cut it out of me. Take it away so it couldn't make my life miserable anymore. Instead, I was told that I was supposed to start doing these specially designed exercises to strengthen my (ugh, how I hate this word) core. And I was told that it was going to take a long, long time to get back to normal.
Well, only a few weeks before I went to the doctor, I went to confession. I delivered myself of a long list of ordinary sins, and said I was sorry. There was a pause, and then the priest asked, in a disgusted voice, "What brought about that meltdown?" Hey, sorry, man! What do you want from me? But immediately, I had to admit that things had gotten pretty bad. My spiritual range of motion had gotten mighty limited, without me even noticing. Even making a minor sacrifice, or forgiving a trivial offense, would bring a yelp of pain. And why should it be that way? There wasn't really anything going wrong in my life. I hadn't really done anything.
The priest was actually waiting for an answer, so I mumbled, "Well, I've been sick . . . and really busy . . . and, you know, money's been tight. . . and I haven't really been praying, I guess." Ding ding ding! There it was. I hadn't been doing anything, and this is where it landed me. Sick, hurt, angry, half paralyzed, and looking around for someone else to blame.
Most Catholics will agree that praying does all sorts of wonderful things for us. But have you ever thought about what happens to us when we don't pray? We don't just maintain some sort of neutral spiritual state until we begin praying again, believe me. A little neglect leads to a little degeneration, and the next thing you know, you're a whimpering heap on the table, wishing and hoping for the knife to come and put you out of your misery. Even though you didn't do anything.
Well, here we go. Ten Hail Marys, ten sit-ups. I can do this. And I have to, because I've tried doing nothing -- and oh, have mercy, does it hurt.