One of the biggest problems with having a chronic illness with its constant and annoying presence in your life, is the temptation to believe that it mitigates against having to “work out your salvation…”(Philippians 2:12). It’s too easy to say, “I don’t need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or help prisoners, (Matthew 25:35 -46) I’m ill and I certainly don’t need to bother with the sick – I am sick.” From that comes the temptation to stop caring, or even noticing that your illness automatically impacts on those around you. Why should you be polite and gentle when it hurts and it’s easier to be snappy and short tempered – even rude. All is mitigated by the fact you are ill. You can let yourself off the responsibility to your family or friends, because you are ill. You think about how ill you are, you talk about how ill you are and make darned sure everyone knows just how ill you are. “Peel me a grape!” you can cry as you indulge in the pity-party. Ugly isn’t it?
Fighting illness is a bit of a tightrope. On the one side you might fall into the snarlyness of all that pain, and on the other is the self-pitying martyr. It can be a difficult rope to balance on, avoiding falling either way. I am guessing that most of us fall off the rope now and then, and have to apologise to whoever we fell on. But we have to climb back up and balance some more, looking ahead and being willing to reach out a hand to fellow travellors.
The truth is when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He never wrote any small print saying it was only for the able bodied and well. When He called Israel and said, “I place before you life and death, choose life therefore,”(Duet 30:19) he didn’t say it only to the young and fit. There was no “unless you are already at death’s door, in which case you don’t need to bother,” clause.
All very well, you might say, but if all this suffering, sickness and pain, isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card, what’s it all for? The theology of suffering fills many a great tome, but I think the nutshell version is this, God allows bad stuff to happen and He can and does use it to make good-even better spportunities for us who are suffering.We have a choice though, the life or death one. If we take up the cross that to the world might look like “death” we will really have chosen life, whereas if we spend all our energy trying to dump our cross on others we are really choosing death.
So we accept the suffering, the sickness the pain, the facing of our own mortality, and we do so without becoming self-obsessed or trying to force our suffering on others. That’s the plan. Then God will send people across our path who are also suffering, perhaps the same way as we are, perhaps in a completely different way and we are to love them as He loves us and that love is the agape love, or charity from the Latin – which doesn’t mean dropping a quid in a box, or being nicey” it means giving of ourselves (Passion=to pour out) to help the other people.
Many people might find all that the easy bit. You could be nodding your head and thinking, yes, with God’s grace I am managing all of that.
Now then – what about the business of accepting the help of others? How easy is that? Admitting you can’t do it and actually asking for help? Now, that is truly difficult for some of us.
One day when I was really not well at all, I was faced with not only a full on home ed day with my own children, but I was taking care of someone else’s as well. I couldn’t think straight and I knew I needed help. It took me ages to simply pick up the phone and call my friend Donna and ask her to come over. She lived just around the corner and I knew she would say yes, even though she was going through the most horrific depression and life problems at the time. She came straight over and was wonderful with the children and accepting of my incoherancy. I will always be grateful, but I also think she had a lovely day that day. She didn’t make a big thing of how wonderful she was. She just did it out of love.
The other difficult negotiation is between knowing when to ask for help or accept the offered help, and giving up on even trying to work through the problem. Part of this comes with not dumping your suffering onto someone and then walking off until the next time it comes to dump. Human dignity demands that we try to behave as human as possible and the most human person is Christ. He’s a hard act to follow, but we are supposed to follow Him.
Aha! You might say, I’m Catholic, so if this gets too hard I’m off to Mum. And what does she say? “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5) So no get off the hook there either.
But it’s not fair! you might be tempted to whine, and you might even give into the temptation. Why should I, who lives with constant pain and is slowly loosing more and more abilities and [insert whatever else here] have to be bothered with other people and their problems?
The answer seems to be that it’s in doing whatever He tells us, that makes the cross we have bearable. If everyone lifts together we can all lift and carry the whole load, but if all we do is carry our own bit and moan about it, well it remains too heavy. And remember, He told us that when we do anything for the least of our fellow men, we are doing it for Him. So when we help someone else He will give us the graces to make the whole thing lighter.
So suffering is there to help us get to heaven, not so we can become so self abosorbed we end up in hell.