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Ring the Bells

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

“Sorry, say that again?” It feels like there’s a chasm between me and the cashier behind the plexi-glass screen with her mask and visor on. I can’t hear a thing she says. “DO…YOU…WANT…A…PLASTIC BAG?” “Ohhh, I thought you said ‘what a fantastic day’! Here I was thinking how very positive! In the old sense of the word, not the Corona-kind…” “No no, do you want a plastic?” “Oh sure, thanks! Well, have a fantastic day anyway!”

It’s not just the PPE that makes hearing people difficult for me. Three years ago, I was in a car accident that changed things for me quite a bit. Let’s just say I had an altercation with a tractor in a vineyard, and I was the one who was worse off. My car was totaled and I was left with a bad whiplash injury. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. I’ve heard of farmers who’ve been killed in similar incidents. I’d blacked out for a moment and when I came around, all I was aware of for a good minute or three was the ringing in my ears. A constant high-pitched tone like the ones you hear when a bomb goes off in war movies. I staggered out the vehicle to check the damage. Mine was in real bad shape, while neither the tractor nor its driver had a scratch. He just looked shocked. The driver, I mean. I’m not sure about the emotional state of the tractor at the time… As for me, my head was spinning, and I felt ready to barf. I held it together long enough to get picked up, at least.

When I asked him about the ringing that hadn’t stopped since, my doctor said that in most cases it goes away after about three months. So three months came and went, and it was still chiming away. “Let’s see after six months. If it’s still going, we should assume that it’s permanent.” Six months came and the ringing kept on – always constant, never skipping a beat. My diagnosis was Traumatic Tinnitus, a hearing condition caused by damage to the inner ear. I went from specialist to specialist, but they agreed – there’s no cure. It would just be about managing it. I needed to reinvent myself to cope.

The worst was sleeping. I couldn’t anymore. And I loved sleeping. I was a master sleeper. But after the accident, I’d lie awake every night with this incessant noise keeping my mind racing round and round. For months my primary emotion was exhaustion. Which turned into depression. And that led to some dark moments. I only realized in what a rut I was when I was driving around a blind turn on the R62 and a thought popped up: “How easy it would be to just swerve into the next truck and end this monotone hell.” I gripped the steering wheel and took the turn. No, I’d stick around and see this through.

A research paper by some neuroscientists at the University of Illinois found that chronic tinnitus keeps the brain more at attention, and less at rest. It’s all in the precuneus, the part of your brain that governs attention and relaxation. When you’re at rest, the precuneus is connected to the default mode network (DMN). It’s kind of like when your brain puts its feet up and chills out. When you’re paying attention to something, though, your brain’s dorsal attention network (DAN) is activated that makes you alert to whatever you’re focusing on. With Tinnitus, your brain is just always on alert. Based on MRI scans of the brains of Tinnitus sufferers, our brains hardly rest. The sound emanating from the damaged inner ear, keeps the brain active. According to this study, it can even impact the structure of your brain over time. The best thing to do, apparently, is to be intentional about resting. To make it routine.

I stopped fighting the sound and started practicing rest. Ironically, I had to work at it. I needed to create the right conditions for my brain to switch off as best it could. I went through Tinnitus retraining therapy, on my audiologist’s recommendation. That meant training my brain to focus on something other than the Tinnitus. Masking the sound of the Tinnitus is only part of it. I always have music on during the day. And when I go to bed, I’ve got white noise on. But no matter how loud the music is, I still hear the ringing. There’s no escaping it. It comes from inside my head - it’s part of me. And dealing with it is also a head-thing.

I stopped thinking of myself as broken. Well-meaning Christians have been all over me to pray for my healing from this defect. And everything in me wanted it. Still does. But for some reason it hasn’t come. I don’t know why, other than God thought it good for me to have Tinnitus. All things are from Him, through Him and to Him (Romans 11:36). He must have had a good reason. I won’t speculate what that reason is, but one thing I’ve resolved to do is simply this: To trust Him. I’ve felt like Paul, crying out to God to take away the thorn in His flesh, whatever that was. I’ve prayed many of those desperate sorts of prayers. But His answer comes back every time the same as it did to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I can’t help but think of Jesus on the cross when I hear those words. Power perfected in weakness. What a paradox. The Maker of Heaven and Earth – Beaten, bruised and bloody. The inscription “King of the Jews” hung as a humiliating charge over His head, crowned with thorns. Pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. There it is: My life in His death. What a mystery. A new kind of power revealed – that of self-giving love.

That’s what Paul talks about when He speaks of Jesus the Messiah laying down His life in the same way that a husband loves his wife. Self-giving love has only the interests of the Other in mind. This kind of love draws your gaze away from yourself onto the Other. This is how Jesus, despite the personal agony of the crucifixion, could look out and see sinners and pray to God “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Love makes you look away from yourself and see the Beloved. The way Jesus could look down, dying on the cross, and not see His executioners, but see His Bride instead. Whether She knew it then or not, She's been waiting for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb ever since. Maybe that’s why I've been hearing wedding bells in my head lately... do you hear them too?

Walk with the King... you're His beloved!

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