Who am I when my body fails me?” This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience? A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016. It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.
Several months into my cancer diagnosis I have noticed a gradual shift in the way I look at life. Before, I focused on the physical and emotional ease of my life. To be sure, I had some chronic health issues, but I believed that they could be managed.
Now I see myself moving into a paradigm of dis-ease. Of course, when you have a serious illness, you have to more aware of what’s wrong with your body at any given moment. When your days are filled with doctor appointments, blood draws, finger pricks, chemo injections, insulin injections, and tracking prescription after prescription, it is normal to be preoccupied with illness rather than health.
However, I am discovering how easily a severely and chronically ill person can fall into the false narrative of “something is always going wrong with me” or “I can’t be who I was before I had to deal with all these problems.” Marketers and publishers have flooded this niche market of dis-eased people with self-help books, memoirs, specialty magazines, web-sites and apps that encourage us to think about our “issues” – real or fantasized.
FINDING A NEW PARADIGM
I knew I had to make a change when I spent a sleepless night obsessing over all the things I had to do the next day to treat or beat my dis-ease. A comment a friend made after his wife died from cancer came to mind: “Walking with my wife opened my eyes to this horrible disease that controls the body AND the mind.” My eyes are now also open to the fact an illness can take over my life. I need to do my best to assure that dis-ease does not control my body and or mind. I need a new Jesus-like narrative that will make room for the reality of illness while encouraging a healthy outlook. I need a new paradigm.
I decided to look at the way Jesus viewed health (ease). The gospel stories seem to reveal that Jesus didn’t see any difference between a person’s physical problems and his or her mental, emotional or spiritual problems. For example, in several healing stories in the book of Matthew, Jesus seems to be concerned with the actual physical problem. He touched a man with leprosy and he was clean.” He touched Peter’s mother and the fever left. He spoke at a distance to the centurion’s servant’s illness and the servant was cured.
But a bit later in the book, Jesus comments that whether he says, “your sins are forgiven” or “get up and walk,” the result will be healing. When the disciples failed to heal a man with a demon, Jesus blamed it on their lack of faith; in other words, the healing required a spiritual component. He asked two blind men who called him as they sat by the road what they wanted him to do for them. It’s possible that he was willing to do something more or different than giving them sight, but that’s what they asked for.
I think our task, whether we are well or ill, is to see ourselves as whole beings, surrendered to our Healer. Jesus didn’t see those he healed as separate parts: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. He saw them (and us) as potentially integrated, congruent (meaning harmonious, all parts fitting together) beings – like himself. Therefore he could approach them (and us) from any direction, any aspect of our being, to accomplish healing.
I recently read a quote from Gretl Ehrlich from A Match to the Heart, an author and book I have never heard of but will look for immediately. She says:
“Takashi, the farmer-monk from southern Japan, said, ‘You have always been so strong. Now it is time to learn about being weak. This is necessary for you.’ How could I grow strong by becoming weak, I asked. What he was asking for was balance. Health cannot be accomplished any other way. I pondered the dampening of this forceful energy which had always welled up inside me. How does one do such a thing and not ask for death in the process? But that was the point: I didn’t have to do anything. There was still a lot I had to learn about getting well.”
Ehrlich is teaching us that we need to dampen our “forceful energy” to accommodate and balance the inevitability of illness and death. I think what she is talking about is a life of ease. I am excited to again focus on being a whole person whose healing does not mean a remission from cancer but an obedient surrender of every part of who I am to my Creator.
MULLING IT OVER: Are you or someone you focused more on dis-ease than wellness? How can you shift your paradigm? How can you view your doctor and hospital visits, medical tests and mediations as God’s blessing for your renewed health rather than as inconvenient or painful intrusions in your life?
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 9:1-8; Isaiah 53:5
PRAYER: “Take, Lord, and receive my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. All I have and call my own, whatever I have or hold, You have given me. I return it all to You and surrender it wholly to be governed by Your will. Give me only your Love and Your grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more” (St. Ignatius of Loyola from Spiritual Exercises).
THOUGHT: “My presence is always with you, but I am very present in times of stress . . . During stressful times, your heart may race and your adrenaline level may soar. These physiological changes can block your awareness of my Presence. So it’s vital at such times to remind yourself: ‘Jesus is here with me; in fact He is very present with me in this hard situation.’ Then, take some slow, deep breaths so you can relax enough to connect with Me and draw strength from Me” (Sara Young from Jesus Today).