One of our kids was born with Sensory Integration Disorder. Her brain did not interpret the information her body experienced correctly. She experienced “wet” as painful and one result was a refusal to eat. Apparently, there are lots of developmental milestones tied to eating: weight gain, hand-eye coordination, rolling, sitting, crawling. It’s a little like playing Jenga. If you pull out the wrong block the tower tumbles down and you face that ghastly diagnosis: failure to thrive. At 9-months we were looking “failure to thrive” squarely in the eyes.
We spent the next two years in therapy and countless hours at home exposing her to things she perceived as painful. It was not enough to dull her senses until she didn’t think water hurt. Failing to recognize pain would put her in danger (she might not react by pulling her hands back from something hot, for instance). Our goal was to get her brain to recognize pain and pleasure accurately so she could respond appropriately.
We saw gradual progress and she eventually met her final objective – to eat and enjoy a green bean, of all things – and was released from therapy: whole, happy, and thriving. Getting there felt like two years of torturing my daughter. Now, she is a wonderful success story and exceeds developmental milestones for her peer group.
My own life doesn’t feel quite like the same wonderful success story.
I think I have my own version of integration issues: spiritual integration issues. Sometimes my heart has trouble recognizing the reality my head embraces. Sometimes I forget that I have tasted that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2-3).
I know I have a loving Father, but I live like an orphan.
I know I am forgiven, but I hide my heart from God.
I know I have victory over sin, but I live defeated.
I know God is faithful, but I fear what is coming next.
I know God is the provider, but I trust in my bank account.
I know God is sovereign, but I don’t trust his goodness.
I know there is no condemnation, but I hide my weakness.
I know I have been saved by grace, but I strive for perfection.
If left unchecked, spiritual integration issues lead to failure to thrive.
When something touches my life, if I fail to interpret it through the grid of knowing God lovingly holds me in his hands, I will not trust him. Like my little girl, my reaction will be all wrong for the reality of what I face.
One of my kids has struggled with a life threatening medical condition for almost a decade. Not long ago we had some blood work done to see if there was a different way to manage the triggers. I agonized as my child endured the tests, suffered through delays and mistakes at the lab, and waited for the results. At some level I knew what we were up against and felt like the whole thing was pointless.
Then the call came.
I listened to the voice on the other end of the phone explaining the results and next steps. My heart started racing and my mouth went dry. I felt dizzy, nauseous, numb. My thoughts swirled in confusion. I grabbed a pen and started writing because I knew I would need to remember these words.
These are all symptoms of shock and are completely appropriate when you receive tragic news, especially something worse than we could’ve imagined. But the voice on the other end of the phone delivered exceptionally good news – news we didn’t even know to hope for. It turns out our path forward is a complete reversal of all we have ever known for this child. There is still a long road ahead, but the destination now is quite possibly total recovery.
I was struck by the fact that I did not have the capacity to deal with good news.
I know God loves me, takes care of me, and chooses good for me, but in that moment, with this child, I was not trusting him. That is a spiritual integration issue.
I’m pretty sure that everyone deals with spiritual integration issues. I think the break between reality and how we experience reality came in the garden when Adam and Eve first chose the tree of knowledge over the tree of life.
The good news is God has a plan to deal with our spiritual integration issues. He spent 33 years living on earth and countless hours since then interceding on our behalf. He left his Word to inform our heads of the truth. He sent his Spirit to retrain our hearts to interpret reality accurately. And if I’m honest, sometimes it feels like torture because I have not been released from therapy (yet – heaven is coming!). But there is a promise that I can be whole, happy, and thriving. It is a gradual process and it rests in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.