Note: I shared the following thoughts when asked to give a spiritual teaching to a group of women in the women's ministry within which I serve. A friend wanted to see them here on the blog, so here they are.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair;always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
I was afflicted with symptoms, first pain, for months, yielding no diagnosis in spite of visits to specialists and more blood tests than I can count, all of which were normal.
I was perplexed. What is wrong with me? What is God doing? But more than anything I wondered, Who is this God? Who am I? Nothing that I knew, or thought I knew, of God or of myself was adequate to help me understand what was happening to me.
I was persecuted by symptoms and by tests and by doctors who all but dismissed me – How about an anti-depressant? one offered. I was persecuted by my own feverish imagination and by my relentless Google-searching of symptoms and possible diagnoses.
Finally, I was struck down. What had started on November 5th of last year as pain in my hands had, by the middle of April, evolved into pervasive weakness. I could not drive or even get in or out of a car without help. I could not rise from a chair or climb stairs. I was walking with the aid of a walker. I could not lift my arms, not at the elbow and certainly not at the shoulder. I could not get in or out of bed or dress myself or shower alone or use the toilet without help. I could not raise a spoon to my own mouth or swallow solid food.
I carried in my body the dying of Jesus.
I wish I could explain to you what happened then, but I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it.
I could not move my body, literally, could not move my limbs, but I was not constrained. In fact, I felt free in a way I have never felt, even as other people drove me and dressed me and washed me and fed me.
I was not driven to despair even as I was completely mystified about what God was doing in my life. I did not feel like giving up. I felt fully possessed of my own life. I was at peace.
I was far from abandoned. My husband washed my hair. My daughter dressed me and decorated my walker with ribbons. My family were provided meals for weeks into months. People came. They drove me to appointments. They swept my floors and scoured my bathrooms. They sent cards and brought flowers and sat on my couch. I was overcome with gratitude for the love that was being poured out on me, me.
I was not destroyed – and not because I finally got a diagnosis and medication. Not because I’m getting better. I was not destroyed even when I didn’t know if I would get better. I had arrived at a deep and inexplicable joy.
At the point, when I was most disabled, I knew, for the first time in my life, that I could live or I could die and all would be well. All would be well with me and with my family and with the world. I was able to embrace my death, so I was able to embrace my life. I know that the death I carry in my body is the dying of Jesus. My life must be the life, the resurrection life of Jesus. Whether I got better or not, I could be a sign of hope.
These questions are for every one of us:
When have you been afflicted, but not constrained?
In what ways have you been perplexed, but not driven to despair?
When have you felt persecuted, but known you had not been abandoned?
How have you been struck down, but not destroyed?
How do you carry in your body the dying of Jesus? How is the life of Jesus manifested in your body?
We ended with this song by Jason Gray, The End of Me.