This essay of mine recently appeared on Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog.


That’s it,” I thought, gritting my teeth, my shoulder raised above my head. “That’s as far as it can go.”

Then the physical therapist pushed it slowly, but firmly, higher. Just a few more centimeters.

Now it’s at the limit,” I thought. “It’s at the breaking point.”

It was cool in the room, but I was drenched in sweat. I pulled the towel with my other hand, put it in my mouth and bit down hard. Maybe it would keep me from screaming. I was sure that the shoulder was about to pop out of its socket, break through the skin, and blind the all-knowing sadistic physical therapist with a shard of bone. It would serve him right for not paying attention to my pain.

I know when I’m at my limit, when enough is enough. He wasn’t reading my body very well, or even trying to understand my muffled bellowing.

I really don’t know how I tore my rotator cuff.

I’m not a surfer, so it wasn’t from overuse in paddling through big waves off my hometown’s coast. I’m not a pitcher, so it wasn’t from throwing too many curve balls. I don’t do martial arts. I didn’t have it pinned behind me during a cage match, refusing to tap out. I don’t rock climb. I didn’t kayak upstream in a raging river. I do watch American Ninja Warrior, though, so maybe something vicarious happened when a competitor lunged for the Warped Wall.

It’s just that my shoulder started hurting a lot, and I went to the doctor, got an MRI, and right there on the screen we could both see the tear.

Friends of mine have had rotator cuff surgery, and none of them came back with 100 percent use of their shoulders. So I chose physical therapy to see if there was a way my body could heal itself, with help.

That’s why I was on this padded table.

I was letting Hannibal Lecter move my arm this way, then that, massaging the area, then moving my arm some more. And on this particular day, when I figured he must be distracted and not paying attention to the fact that I could take no more, he kept moving my arm higher. Then a little higher.

Finally, he stopped. “Whew,” I thought. “He must have figured that I was at the limit of what I could do.

But before I could move, I heard him say this: “If you want me to help you, you gotta let me have your shoulder.

In other words, I wasn’t cooperating in my own healing.

I was resisting, and didn’t even know it.

Deep down, I thought I knew better than him. I thought I had to protect myself.

Over the next few weeks I let more and more of my shoulder go. The pain was excruciating while the therapist did what therapists do. And then, slowly, with some exercise, it got better. I got my strength back. And now it’s really good. The Unstable Ladder on American Ninja Warrior looks do-able.

But first I had to let it go. What are you holding onto that is keeping you from getting healed?