Nobody likes to be ill. Disability, sickness, pain – none of them are any fun.
Certainly, I would prefer for Mark’s eyes to work. Being married to a man who has lost his sight so early is not something I would have chosen. His life has been turned upside down, and in so many ways mine has too – although I don’t have to cope like he does.
I would definitely prefer to never be ill. But recently I had a few weeks of really unpleasant illness. For the first time in my adult life I didn’t leave bed for over a week, didn’t eat for 12 days, and lost all energy as I coped with the pain, the stomach cramps, and the whateveritwas that was causing the illness.
And during this time, it was fascinating to witness my own reactions, and to experience the reactions of others too.
As I laid in bed, feelings of guilt and frustration washed over me.
Illness is extremely inconvenient! I do all the driving in our house. I do all the cooking. I work freelance and had the busiest and most financially important two weeks of my term ahead. And most of all – I DON’T LET PEOPLE DOWN…. But gradually, day by day, I realised that I was not indispensable and that the world would not stop turning as I had no choice AT ALL but to stop and do absolutely nothing apart from walk from the bed to the bathroom and back again.
The moment that particularly impacted me was when I received a bouquet of flowers from a college who I had let down very badly – leaving a degree course of students without me lecturing them with a day’s notice and no chance of the college being able to cover me. And yet they sent me flowers. They actually cared about me – and not just the lectures. That lesson really touched me. I can be loved not just for what I achieve, but for who I am. Obvious really, but perhaps difficult for this activist to always grasp.
I was reminded again that people can be so lovely. Friends made a meal, helped with lifts, visited, dropped of food and energy drinks, texted, sent cards and flowers. It was quite wonderful to receive such kindness. But after 3 weeks, when I returned to church, another significant moment happened. I was met in the lobby by a stream of people from the 9am earlier service – a more traditional service with many older people than my usual later service. But they all stopped me – I mean loads of them – and they poured out questions and expressions of love, care, diagnosis ideas, experiences and assurances that they had been praying every day for me.
Their empathy shocked me.
Don’t get me wrong – my friends were amazing – the texts and practical help were fantastic. They even tried to make me smile by mentioning how great the weight loss would be (like that was even something that mattered when I was doubled up in pain…). They were trying to cheer me up and to try and find a silver lining – and I probably would have said the same thing in their shoes to be honest. Perhaps an easy connection point was our frequent conversations about middle aged-spread and the battle of the bulge.
The older people, however, were not connecting with me about waistlines. They have moved on from worrying about such things. Their eyes showed a concern which came from the shared experience of pain, frustration and endless doctors’ appointments and undignified procedures. It was as if we suddenly had a connection which we hadn’t had before – I had joined a club of fellow strugglers.
I need my funny, helpful, texting lovely friends. But I also now realise now how much a card or a phone call means to somebody who can’t see past their physical condition, and how amazing these older people are – they really deserve our respect and care.
Mark’s disability and my recent lurgy have reminded me again about the power of relationships, the potency of empathy, and that simple acts of kindness can take on enormous significance amidst life’s challenges. God is with us in our suffering – I know that – He knows about suffering. And God gives us people to share the journey of life with – that is part of the redemption of suffering – that we can know unconditional kindness and love – for who we are and not what we can do. We have no choice sometimes, but to surrender to our circumstances and to allow our weakness to open the gate to an inner journey and a deeper connection to those around us – especially those who have walked this path before us.
Nobody likes to learn lessons from a lurgy. But we so often learn in more in our challenges that in our comfort, don’t you think?