So, Here’s the Rub:

It’s about 30 minutes into my massage and I am happy, greasy and relaxed. The Massage Therapy Guy is not overly chatty, which works for me, and he is applying exactly the right amount of pressure on my aching back. I can feel his forearm colliding with some speed bumps in my shoulders as he tries to smoooooooooth out the knots. In a voice muffled by the head rest, I sleepily ask, “What’s the deal, are there hamsters living under my shoulder blades or something?” (because I’m hilarious like that.) He laughs, and keeps working on me. Then a few minutes later, out of nowhere he says, “So, have you ever considered taking up kickboxing?”

Um, what?

“Maybe it would release some of that tension you’re carrying around,” he says. I’m not sure if he’s kidding, so I open one eye to see if I can read his face but my position only permits a passing glimpse of his Birkenstocks under the massage table. “I actually consider myself a pretty laid-back person,” I say, sounding just a wee bit defensive. “At least I did. Apparently my back is ratting me out.” Massage Therapy Guy doesn’t answer, and continues kneading my shoulders for several minutes. Then in a quiet voice he says simply, “The body doesn’t lie.”

I’m thinking, “Great– a salon full of trained professionals, and I get Massage Therapy Yoda.”  He calmly continues, “It’s not really even your tension, you know. You’re a very empathetic person, but you can’t keep on carrying other people’s pain for them.” He carefully places his palms on my shoulders, resting them gently like he’s bestowing a blessing on my poor bumpy, tension-ridden back. “Lay it down,” he says. “This doesn’t belong to you.”

Ok, that gets my attention, I admit it.

Now, I’ve never met this man before in my life, so I’m a little weirded out. But he doesn’t pursue the subject or try to engage me in any more conversation, he just keeps working on me for the rest of the hour while I lay there slightly bemused and wondering… Is it true? Do I really try to absorb/solve/carry everybody else’s problems around on my (slightly sloping, but admittedly still relatively attractive) shoulders– or does this guy just fancy himself the Dr. Phil of massage therapists?

Here’s the deal: While I do not live a life crippled by worry and foreboding, and while my natural disposition tends to be obnoxiously delightfully sunny, the truth is I do have a tendency to expend a great deal of time, mental and emotional energy thinking about the things going on in the lives of the people I care about. When I’m on top of my game, I can easily take those passing thoughts and turn them into quick prayers. (I’m a subscriber to  Anne Lamott’s theory  that the two best kinds of prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”) But when I am feeling tired or overwhelmed, it is sometimes harder for me to turn all of my concerns for my loved ones over to God. I’m not sure He’s going to really get into it like I do, what with all of those wars, famines and other people’s prayers He has to deal with. Attention must be paid, and I figure He’s got a lot on His plate, so perhaps I’d better do some of the ruminating and problem solving myself. Just to help out, you know. Because I am nothing if not helpful.

Except that apparently all of that ‘helping’ is now showing up in my body. And I can’t quite shake that one phrase that Massage Therapy Guy said that I KNOW in my heart (and body) is absolutely true– “This doesn’t belong to you.” My worries/concerns/fears for my family, however well-intentioned and prompted by love they may be, are not mine to carry. While it is perfectly natural to have those feelings, it’s not my place to take over, even if that only occurs in my head. And let’s be honest, it rarely just stays in my head, because I always feel the compelling need to offer advice and counsel, whether requested or not!  But the deal is, trying to solve other people’s problems is not only frustratingly ineffective, it also cheats them out of the opportunity to find their own solutions and grow from the experience. I’m not only attempting to circumvent the work of the Holy Spirit, I’m attempting to BE the spirit of God in their lives.


A well-placed, “I am so sorry you are going through this. What are you feeling like you want to do next?” is ever so much better than a blurted-out, “Here’s what you need to do.” Because one of the many little epiphanies I had whilst lying naked under that sheet on the massage table is this: My quick willingness to jump in and start ‘helping’ is often really less about their discomfort with their current situation and more about my own discomfort in bearing witness to their pain. I want a clear direction and path of action for them because it upsets *me* to watch them stumble around trying to find their way.

I believe the mathematical equation for this would read something like, ” Your problem + finding your own way through it = stress for me + the need to jump in with both feet – REALLY turning it over to God.

My goal for this week: to lovingly take notice of the pain of the people around me, affirm my belief in their strength and ability to find their way through, and then join them in firmly placing their cares in the hands of the only One who can actually do something about them.

So… what do you need to lay down this week that doesn’t belong to you?

*By Matt Groening

16 Responses

  1. LindaB

    Yeah. I know all you said is true. But then……….there’s our children. I can turn all other people’s problems and trials over to God, after I’ve done what I can, and leave them there for God to handle. But I’ve never been able to do that for my children. I brought them into the world, and I feel responsible for their happiness and good health until they leave. It’s a pickle, isn’t it? Got any advice for that?

    I wanna get a massage at the spa, my neck and shoulders hurt all the time…… soon as I lose about 40 pounds. Don’t wanna hear the massage therapist say, “I’ll be right back……gotta get someone else to help me.”

  2. typhoebe

    This is all so true and well put. When I get my pedicures and the machine starts vibrating my back I almost feel irritated sometimes. Finally, as I give in to it and feel the warm swirl around my feet I begine to realize that I am wound up tighter than a drum….oh, I get it,…this is time for me and not all the stuff I have been carrying around all morning. Stuff that only God could be fixing anyway. Funny how He can get our attention in times least likely to be expected. After all, I had read my devotional that morning and didn’t hear from God at all. After a good pedicure I feel like I not only have happy feet but a happy heart. Love you Lord. By the way, I just heard Russ sing “Here Comes Jesus” in Franklin, NC the other night and I really had a happy heart after hearing it. Got the new CD and can’t quit playing it. Love the Tori “Rock Bound”…danced to the whole thing!

  3. tori

    LindaB– OK, you just revealed my Achille’s heel as far as worrying is concerned… Ain’t it the truth?! Trying to get better, though.

    typhoebe–I know exactly what you mean! Sometimes I catch myself mentally counting down the minutes I have left in my massage– which kinda defeats the purpose, ya know? So glad you enjoyed the concert (and the cd!)

  4. delightedabroad

    Once again you just hit the mark :-)
    I’m in the middle of a very intensive training to get rid of too many of those warning signs…

  5. bettyrwoodward

    Well said Tori. All very true.

  6. ChristinaCD

    WOW Tori,

    THANK YOU!!! I read that as if you were talking directly to me!! and YES it’s soooo much harder with our kids!!!

  7. dferrell

    As I was reading this, it was as if God was saying to me “See, that’s what I have been trying to tell you!” I have been trying to “fix” all of my daughter’s trials instead of letting her work them out. It is so hard though to watch them struggle and try to figure it out. Thanks for the post–it was so wonderfully said.
    Was blessed to hear Russ recently at the Indiana State Fair. It is always so GOOD to hear both the new songs and the old!

  8. ConnieLowryKing

    Hi Tori, Thanks for the post. Guilty as charged. My massage therapy guy has never said I should take up kick boxing (he knows I’ve had 7 back surgeries)and I think he is too kind. He is the best thing I have ever done for my back pain. He really cares about helping to releave my pain. I said how is it you know where all our spots are? He said, your back is like a mine field,lol. It is amazing how much better we can feel if we let go and trust someone else. My husband convinced me that if it was helping I should keep going and increace the time to get more results. Women feel it is too much a luxury to get massage & I say you need it to work out those painful areas so other areas don’t start locking up. Besides,the oil is great for those of us post meno when everything is dry as a bone. Thanks for reminding me that it’s a good idea to lay my burdens down & really trust God to take care of the people I love. I seem to adopt people everywhere I go. If I think I can help them I try. Sometimes I carry way too much on my shoulders, which makes it a lot harder for my massage therapy guy to help me. Love you Tori, you are sunshine on a cloudy day! Tell Russ his music has helped me thru some difficult times over the years and always lifts me up. Thanks!

  9. tori

    delightedabroad– Yeah, I was preaching to myself on this one! Good luck with the training…

    bettyrwoodward– Thanks, Betty.

    ChristinaCD– It is harder with them, isn’t it?

    dferrell– I know, I hate to watch them struggle, all of my mom instincts say, “RESCUE!!” So glad you enjoyed Russ!

    ConnieLowryKing– I am a big believer in massage. I had a massage therapist with me during labor with both of my girls!

  10. jonny

    “but admittedly still relatively attractive shoulders”

    Trueness, the photos don’t lie !!

    No kids, but have been having to let go of many things lately because I’m not the one who’s in charge, or leading here.

  11. themusicdoc

    Let’s see…. what do I need to put down? How ’bout “just about everything”? I love this. Just emailed it to my wife…. (how’s that for a deflection :)!

  12. jonny

    “I love this. Just emailed it to my wife…. (how’s that for a deflection”

    It impressed me, for what it’s worth = )

  13. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Okay, I’ll start by confessing that I would have to go 100 miles out of town to get a body massage. The only one giving them in this small town is a lady I used to teach in Bible class…..You don’t think I am going to take off my clothes and let her try to flatten those roles, do you?!!

    Many years ago I heard a sermon and the pastor said that mothers rush in and try to solve her child’s problem….and God is looking down on the whole thing, saying to Himself, “Get out of the way, dummy….now I am going to have to bring her/him right back to this same place again so I am able to teach her/him a lesson.” I said “Amen” because I knew he was right….then I went back home and to this day I am still rushing in to try and save her or him from the pain I just know they are going to suffer if I don’t “fix it.” As for friends, I always have an opinion. The only time I get upset is when two years after I have given it to them, they are still asking me the same questions. But then, since I am always trying to find something good in every situation….it is then I have no problem deciding not to worry about them anymore. Well….er, sometimes.

  14. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Sweet dferrell, you have excellent taste….Russ is the best!

  15. meb

    So I read this with interest on a couple of different levels. Currently I am in school studying massage therapy – and your therapist is right, the body doesn’t lie. It’s amazing what the muscle memory holds, where we carry stress or burdens, and how the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems respond to touch.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m going to pass it along to some of my classmates as well.

  16. tori

    meb– How wonderful that you are going to become a massage therapist! I am such a firm believer in the power of touch, and believe me, NOBODY gets their money’s worth out of massage more than I do! I even had a massage therapist with me both times at the hospital with me when I gave birth.

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