Reflections on Being Sick

Even if you feel robust and twenty years younger than your age, the two perspectives I cover in this post will apply to you.

Physically speaking, have you ever felt lower than a snake’s belly in the floor of the Grand Canyon?

Have you ever been plagued by an intestinal virus so severe that you considered tossing a pillow and blanket into the tub so you wouldn’t have to make so many overnight trips to the bathroom?

Ever felt so weak that you weren’t sure you could make it as far as the bathroom?

Then you know how I felt for several days right after Christmas.

Since I couldn’t do much of anything else, I reflected on illness in relation to my Christian faith. During the sickness, these thoughts solidified in my mind.

Dispensing with Indispensability

Theologically, I know that my identity as a person rests on Christ’s sacrifice for me on the cross. My significance is rooted in His performance, not mine. Though I’m called by God to teach and to write, my status as “Abba’s child” is what grants me value, not what I do.

On the other hand, my poor response to illness makes me wonder if I really believe the previous paragraph. Without the physical capacity to achieve last week–even projects unrelated to ministry–restlessness gripped my spirit. I felt agitated because I wasn’t doing anything to justify my existence. The only thing I accomplished was taking up space around the house. (And don’t you dare say that I was taking up too much of it!)

On top of the uselessness I felt, the reality that I’m patently not indispensable became clear-cut. Oh, I knew that fact before. I often remind my students that “cemeteries are filled with indispensable people.” But perhaps I had been clinging to a misguided suspicion that I am an exception.

Yet while I covered up in bed and occasionally slogged around the house, local churches didn’t close their doors, and if it hadn’t been a holiday, Columbia International University would have still been training students “to know Christ and to make Him known.” The administration would not have suspended classes, given students time off, and sent faculty/staff home just because I couldn’t make it to campus.

Then it hit me: this innate restlessness and addiction to accomplishment unveiled by the sickness is the same reason for my inconsistency in practicing “Sabbath rest” each week. God’s Spirit revealed that my difficulty at resting, and my unwillingness to take regular days off from ministry, amount to unbelief. I must be convinced that God can’t accomplish His purposes when I am out of commission. As obvious as it sounds, I came to the ego-deflating conclusion that God will exist after I die.

Oh God, teach me that my frail earthly body, as well as my mind and spirit, need rest and recuperation. May I see physical limitations as one more reason to rely on Your strength. Help me to accept unproductive days better, and remind me that even on such occasions, I can still revel in Your presence. Help me not to expect on earth the kind of body that You only promised for heaven. In the name of One who, during His years on earth, not only required sleep, but occasionally took naps. Amen.

Anticipating a Heavenly Body

Long before I was a senior citizen, I enjoyed telling “growing old” jokes.

You know you’re growing old when your back goes out more than you do. When you sit in a rocking chair and you can’t make it go. When you bend over to pick an item off the floor, and you wonder, “What else can I do while I’m down here?” When you get winded playing chess. When you step out of the shower and you’re glad the mirror is all fogged up.

Those are no longer just jokes, but actual grim reminders that I’m aging, and my body–with apologies to English teachers–ain’t what it used to be!

While enduring the sickness last week, I remembered 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s description of the heavenly body we’ll have, compared to our earthly body.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (But still a physical one!) He added, “This perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (vs. 53).

Then my mind shifted to the soul-sustaining promise in Revelation 21:4. In the new heaven and the new earth, “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.”

No more limping caused by two knee surgeries in one year. No longer a spine that feels like it’s being squeezed by giant pliers when I carry something heavy. No more difficulty breathing caused by an episode of “A. Fib.” No more headaches, vomiting, or loved ones dying of cancer.

Though I don’t want to die anytime soon, meditating on those texts piqued my interest in and enhanced my anticipation of heaven. Whatever type of pain I currently experience, whether it’s a bodily illness or a depressed spirit, it is temporary!

Knowing this enables me to endure in the here and now, to keep serving the Lord when I don’t feel well. I can put up with a whole lot now so long as I have hope for a different future. Ironically, this type of heavenly-mindedness means that, by God’s grace, I’ll accomplish more earthly good.

Father, keep reminding me of how down to earth it is to “set my mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2). In the name of One who was so heavenly-minded that He came to earth, Amen.

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