When you have good health, you feel that you are blessed. How can you be blessed with poor health? When I was out of work for an entire year, we were in a financial shambles. We’d borrowed money to put food on the table and were severely in debt. My parents did not help, because they felt I wasn’t trying hard enough to look for a job, therefore, I didn’t need any help. In their minds, they needed to apply more “tough love”, and my innocent children suffered. After all, even lazy people with no education can get a job. You’re an engineer with a master’s degree and a lot of experience… I digress. I hugged my wife one day and said the common saying, “At least we still have our health.” She shoved me away and said, “Don’t say that!” I regretted it. She had been a diabetic for a couple of years, but there were no complications. She was taking a minimal dosage of pills. Our younger son had chronic ear infections and a hearing loss as a result, but he was fine for that moment. But my wife was afraid that we would follow the pattern of Job. First his possessions and family lost, then his health. Would God test our faith in the same manner?
My wife’s diabetes went downhill quickly. She went from one doctor to another. She was on insulin for a short time, but ended up with a cocktail of medicines. She now has it under control, but what damage had it caused? Her weight gain was confirmed to be thyroid related, and she started getting treatment for that. Finally, the doctor insisted on bariatric surgery. She was allergic to the anesthetic. She went from recovery to ICU. It was touch and go. Her kidneys shut down, but they recovered to a level of stage 3 kidney failure. Her aortic stenosis was diagnosed after my mother badgered her for six months. The stress from the verbal abuse led to chest pains. The blessing in that is that we found out about it. She has since had mini-strokes (TIAs) and heart attacks. On top of everything, she was invited to go with our older son and his family to Disney World. The Disney staff did not control the children getting onto a ride, my wife rushed to get out of their way while the strangers were shoving, and she fell, braking her arm and tearing her rotator cuff. She still has pain from each and she swears that the recovery from rotator cuff surgery was the worst thing she’s gone through. This coming from a woman who was about to have an endarterectomy (to clean a carotid artery) and flat lined on the operating table, legally dead for an undisclosed period of time. Her latest kidney test was that she has worsened to stage 4 kidney failure. Any more kidney failure and she will be on dialysis.
She now is good friends with some people twenty years her elders. They complain about simple pains. She simply smiles. No one wants to hear about your ailments, except for people who truly care, and they are few. People expect old people to talk about them. But old people have a problem realizing that a younger person could be more ill. My wife removed herself from the church’s prayer list, because the person running the prayer team, at the time, would say, “You’re not sick. You look like you could do cartwheels.” For one, looks can be deceiving. For another, my wife is one of the most joyful people you’ll ever meet. She would brighten anyone’s day. When she’s in the hospital having tests done, she cheers up the over-worked nursing staff and tries to get each doctor to laugh. They’re telling her that she has bad medical problems. She’s telling them to lighten up.
I’m not like that, I groan when something hurts. I have more skeletal issues: bad knees, bad back, arthritis, etc. I had Grave’s disease and had to have my thyroid destroyed, but after a lot of weight gain, my dosage now has me stabilized.
My wife sees the difficulty in me getting up. Once I am vertical, I have less problems. Sometimes lately, I’ve had projects that required me to be on my feet for long periods of time and outdoors for long periods of time in the heat. If I got a desk job, I’d rely on the job instead of God. If I got a windfall, I’d rely on the security of the money instead of God. Don’t get me wrong, if that happened, I’d praise God, but sometimes extra cash can be a curse. I might get lazy. Okay, I do rely on a cane to help with the wobbles and the stamina. I hope God understands. But I still crack jokes with the doctors and nurses when I can.
I say all of this because we have friends who take two or three prescription drugs each day and complain that they are so ill, so far from being blessed, so tired. My wife and I haven’t had a day with any energy in over ten years. Getting metabolism through a pill is not the same. Doctors say it is, but they haven’t experienced it. She takes more pills than I do, and I take over twenty each day (okay, a couple are vitamins). We can’t rely on our health to get us out of our present situation. One day, my wife will have a heart attack. She’ll hesitate until it’s too late. Or something else will happen. In our present state, we’re mortal creatures with immortal souls. I remember an old war movie where they talk in the foxhole about not hearing the bullet that gets you. In the end, one of the stars gets mortally wounded, and he tells his buddy that they’ll have to change the title of their book to “Sometimes you do hear the bullet coming”. It’s that way with life in peace time. We are constantly getting new aches and pains. We get sick and we get better. Someday, we won’t get better. Regardless, we must live the life according to what is dealt to us. You never know when you may be asked to be a blessing.
The ultimate in being sick and a blessing in my lifetime is when my mother-in-law had open heart surgery. She was in the hospital for a long time, and she did not have medical insurance. Her husband had died a few years before, leaving her having to go to work for minimal pay in her old age. (She was the hostess at a Dutch windmill museum in a town founded by the Dutch in Texas. Since she spoke Dutch, it was a perfect fit.) Anyway, she had no way to pay for any of her surgery or her time during recovery. My mother-in-law enjoys being entertained and entertaining. In other words, left alone, she gets bored. So, she grabbed her guitar and went to the children’s ward and sang songs from a dozen different countries, in a dozen different languages, to the children. They didn’t care that this old lady wasn’t singing in English, they were being entertained by her. They were being distracted from the thought that they had aches and pains. But, my mother-in-law’s motivation was that she didn’t want to be bored. She was entertained by their smiles and their laughter. When she checked out of the hospital, she began to cry. She explained that she could pay them a few pennies each month for a few hundred years and she’d finally get her bill paid. The hospital staff person who checked her out told her, “Don’t worry. Your bill was paid in full.” To this day, they have never admitted who had cancelled my mother-in-law’s debt. If it was payment for her singing to the children, it was God’s earthly blessing to tell each of us that our service to others is our main goal in life, regardless of how we feel at the time. Every place God puts us is where God can use us. Are we ready?
Since the First Draft
Since this was written, my mother-in-law passed away. Her memorial service was during the day on a week day, but the little church was packed. People came from over a hundred miles to tell us how she had been an influence in their lives. And all that time, she had one ache or another. She laughed, she prayed, she loved, she lived.
My wife will soon have heart surgery of one type or another. Because of her kidney failure, they may consider her a high-risk patient. I am sure that she will entertain in the hospital just like her mother.
John 9:1-5 (NIV)
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Why did this man suffer for so many years? Was he forsaken? It wasn’t due to sin. We often whine about our ailments, but our actions, or our inactivity, contributed to our ailments in many cases. For this man, God allowed him to suffer so that God’s mighty works could be experienced. But maybe, the former blind man’s testimony before the Pharisees might have had something to do with it also:
John 9: 25-27 (NIV)
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Luke 5: 17-23
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?”
Now for the other side of the coin, some of our suffering is due to our sins. Even if you maintained a healthy diet all your life, but got Type II diabetes in old age, you still are a sinner, hopefully saved by the Grace of God. Do we deserve a pain free life? In taking up our cross, it will not be easy. Each of us will have different burdens to bear.
John 5: 1-8 (NIV)
Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Jesus asks a question and the invalid did not answer Him. Instead, the invalid complained. Of course, the tradition was that when the pool was stirred, the first to enter would be healed. The invalid was alone and thus had that problem. He wanted to be healed, but he could not do it on his own. He needed help. Jesus healed him without the man being dipped in the pool. The invalid didn’t need to have someone help him into the pool. He needed Jesus.
Have you visited an old person to cheer them up and they cheered you up? Have you had the opposite, the old person made you depressed? What is different in those old people’s lives that elicits that type of response?
If you are young, do you feel invincible? Maybe not immortal, but have you gained a few pounds and didn’t worry about it, because you’d lost the weight easily the last time? It may not be a weight gain, but this attitude points to that youthful invincibility that most of us lose over time. Yet, do we rely on that invincibility instead of God?
What happens when the wheels come off and you’re not ready to retire? What do I mean? Some people retire when they have one too many aches. If you have heard from the doctor that you have “x” amount of months to live, you can budget your time and enjoy the short time until you are bed ridden. But, if you have a job that requires physical exertion, and your back goes out, do you have the money to live many years without work?
As an example of this question, let me offer you an example of my scoutmaster in the mid 1960s. He had Cerebral Palsy (CP). This did not stop him as a middle-aged man. He worked for the forestry service, and he was the scoutmaster of Troop 3 at the Presbyterian Church in Tupelo, MS. I joined right after the troop had hiked the continental divide through the Smoky Mountain National Park. Nothing slowed him down. His son was in college when I got my Eagle Scout. He pulled me aside and asked if he should continue on. I told him that the boys loved him. I asked who would keep the troop going. I think he wanted to hear a different answer; he was tired and the CP was taking a toll, but I was 15 when he asked the question. I had not suffered that kind of pain. He stayed on as scoutmaster, but in later life, the CP didn’t allow him to stay with the forestry service. He then became the janitor at the church. He’d sown seeds of goodwill his entire adult life. The church let him do what he could and not worry about the rest. He found a way of staying productive and serving God, when his body had failed him.
Many modern tennis players grunt or shout when they hit the ball. They claim it’s like the shout that karate fighters use. It strengthens the blow. Whether psychological or physical, they do it for an advantage. I often groan when trying to get up for the same reason. Without the grunt, I might not make it to the vertical position. Once vertical, I’m fine – most of the time. My wife hates that. She never groans. How do you respond to pain? Is it acceptable to give a verbal “Ki-ah” to the pain in your life? Isn’t the key that you’re still moving, right?
Remember the blind man’s testimony. Can you use your affliction to show your weakness and God’s strength as a witness before others?
In Job 2:9, Job’s wife challenges Job as he complains about his suffering. She suggests that he curse God and die. If you get that diagnosis that no one wants to hear, will you complain, moan, or praise God, knowing that you are going home? NOTE: It may be satisfactory to do all three, but in good measure. Yet, by which one will others remember you?