the wisdom of being sick
I heard it, and I knew it.
The rattle in my daughter's cough started to grow more prominent. Then, the obligatory parental waiting period came, filled with questions like "Is it really that bad?" and "Should she stay home from school?" and the classic "Should we take her to the doctor?"
In order: Yes. Yes. and Yes.
Doctor. Bronchitis. And all God's people said: ain't nobody got time for that.
The sickly sticky amoxycillin began flowing, and things got better.
What I didn't expect was to hear the same thing from my wife. The rattle. The coughing. In a stunning development, she goes sinus infection for the win.
So, as the only well person in the house I am currently helping keep us sane while washing my hands at a near compulsive rate. This is real life.
Sickness is the most human thing that we can ever experience. It is the reminder that tiny, microscopic organisms can wage war and actually take territory in our bodies. Then again, our bodies actually fight back and heal themselves, carrying out a deep divinity wired into them that says "Battle. Survive. Do not surrender."
There is an innate wisdom to sickness, and sadly I have a front row seat to three pearls of "sick wisdom" that I'd love to share with you.
1. We are all vulnerable.
Sickness reminds us that we are frail - dust even - and that as dust we have vulnerabilities. There are places where we are weak, strained, and without defense. Our vulnerability isn't a detriment necessarily, in fact it is something we can cultivate and give away to others and in so doing create something good and beautiful.
When someone talks about having pneumonia and feeling the drop-dead, no movement, energy draining reality of that illness, I can sympathize remembering that I went through that same valley.
Our vulnerability teaches us compassion, because at the moment we put ourselves above a vulnerable other we have exposed the same vulnerability in ourselves. When we condemn the ignorance of that person from that tribe we disagree with, we have revealed our fear and anxiety of being shown as ignorant or powerless.
The wisdom of sickness says that we are all open, vulnerable, and exposed. The best thing to do is embrace it and cultivate the weakness that is holy strength (1 Cor. 1:25)
2. We cannot heal without rest.
While it sounds like common sense, we often live as if our bodies can continue to live at high capacity while devoting cellular energy to battling the illness that is threatening our very existence. It isn't true.
Healing and rest go hand in hand. Giving up one thing - constant activity, productivity, attentiveness - to restore and renew the other is the great journey of human existence. The fascinating thing about the idea of Sabbath in the Bible is that the first commandment regarding Sabbath came to a group of freed slaves - in other words, people who were kept from rest.
If we attach our value and worth to our productivity, we will never survive the sickness. We will never have space to heal.
Sabbath gives us healing, but not until we decide to surrender our originally scheduled programming. The inability to rest fractures our bodies, relationships, minds, attention, and even our world. To rest is to listen. To rest is to recollect life as it has been, preparing for what it will be. To rest is to be cared for so that we may care for others. This leads to one last thought.
3. We are shaped to be interdependent.
Of course, to think about illness is to think about chronic and even fatal illnesses. The emotional toll on families walking through long season of terminal illness is to see the drama of life, loss, hope, and character writ large on the faces of image-bearing children of God. The drama is sustained on the interconnectedness people experience with each other.
To isolate ourselves is to facilitate a weakness that can kill, or at best injure and permanently scar. In our little sicknesses (as opposed to terminal illness) as well as in our little deaths (as opposed to mortal death) we learn how much we need each other. When Jesus says, "They'll know you're my disciples by the fact that you keep my commandments - the greatest of which is to love with everything you've got."
The mark of a healthy - as opposed to sick - person, culture, and society is their ability to crush boundaries and love fearlessly. To restrain or withhold love is like licking the Petri dish of bacteria; we are begging for a significant infection.
The wise way is the way of love because when we love, we image the presence of Jesus and we draw together the "us" instead of delineating the "us vs. them."
So I wait with my girls today, carrying them as they've carried me through pneumonia and all other sorts of pathogens. We divert from normal rhythms, giving the grace of ice cream and TV on school nights.
We learn the wisdoms of sickness so that we may live the wisdoms of health.
May you know in your wellness the wisdom of sickness that sturdies the soul and spirit for the life that we are invited to live. A life plumbing the depths of divinity, and living it out online, in person, and in relationship.