When Guilt And Gratitude Collide

Have you ever felt guilty for feeling grateful?

A few weeks ago I did something uncharacteristically logical. Since I’m planning this epic bike ride (Journey4Hope) I decided to get clearance from my doctor. I went in for a complete physical.

I received his standard doctor humor. “Aside from being paralyzed, you’re in great health.” Very funny.

He recommended that I check with my neurologist. I did that, and even agreed to a precautionary (and expensive) MRI “just to be sure.” I was shocked when he reported some concerns with the scan of my injury site. “Don’t want to alarm you, but I think you may need reconstructive surgery, something called a spinal decompression. You should see a neurosurgeon right away.”

I’ve seen this movie before. You can’t really put “don’t be alarmed” and “see a neurosurgeon right away” in the same conversation.
So after a very long weekend we sat in the neurosurgeon’s waiting room to hear the verdict. I knew what spinal decompression surgery involved. It meant going back to square one. Months in the hospital, learning to do simple tasks all over again, no bike ride—it meant reliving the whole painful process.

I can’t begin to explain the fear. I tried to pretend for a while, but in that waiting room I thought I might vomit. I literally wasn’t sure I could knowingly confront that ordeal again.

The doc pulled the scan up on his computer screen, stared for about thirty seconds, and turned toward us. “You don’t need surgery.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I guess he saw the shock, so he explained. He showed me what the other doc saw, explained the slight risk of no-surgery against the considerable risks of surgery, and advised me to see the neurologist again in a year for a re-eval.

Have a nice day.

Confused. Numb. What just happened? One minute you think you’re going to face a life-altering choice, and suddenly you’re outside and it’s time for lunch and the dog’s looking for a bush. I’d do a happy dance, except that dancing really isn’t my thing.

And then you’re thankful. Tears and smiles and just overwhelmingly grateful.

Reality check

Then at church the very next Sunday a friend stopped me. “Did you hear that Michelle’s back in the hospital? She had to have spinal decompression and reconstruction surgery.”

My friend Michelle, whose injury happened a year before mine; exactly the surgery I dreaded, re-enduring the rehab I said I couldn’t face again.

She’s spending the next few months in the room right next to the one I called home for twenty-one weeks. Monte and I visited her, watched as she struggled to sit up, listened as she shared the frustration of starting over.

You and I know, intellectually, that there’s no connection between her suffering and my blessing. We know that I shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling grateful. Right?

But I do. God and I need to talk about that.

Do you ever get those sorts of crazy, conflicted feelings?

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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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