Confessions: Chronic Illness and the Gospel
Hi, y'all. It's me again, just stopping by to say that I turned 28 last month. As a sentimental, slightly dramatic person, this birthday brought a lot of reflection. I mean, I am officially in my late 20s, sliding down the ski slope into thirty with very little grace or decorum--I've pretty much given up on acquiring much of that at this point. And, for some reason (it's probably just the minor pandemic), I found myself reflecting on where I thought I would be by this point in my life. All I can say is I definitely didn't plan for my life to look like what it does now.
By now, I had planned to be settling into pastoring my first congregation, finishing some sort of book about faith and the beauty of everyday life, and I thought I would be expecting my first child (I'm not) and building my family and vocation from the ground-up. Spoiler alert: None of my plans have come to fruition.
I am a planner by nature. My back-up plans have back-up plans, but these dreams did not. My expectations, looking at them now, were some idealized versions of reality that are far beyond any person's natural capacity, but that does not mean I wish they were any less real at this point in my life. That's the thing about always looking to the future, I forget to look at what's right in front of me. Even though what's right in front of me isn't the view I want.
As I have admitted previously, Bible reading is something I still struggle to do on a regular basis, but this week I have been thinking a lot about the woman who bled for 12 years.
I have been struggling with chronic pain from complications of life-saving surgery for a year and a half and feel as though I can't go on 90% of the time.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all talk about her and the healing she needed and for which she longed. For 12 years she sought care and compassion. 12 years of missing birthdays and family gatherings. 12 years of wanting to do simple everyday things with ease. 12 years of losing all she had to try to find a cure. 12 years of living outside her community because of laws that dictated her participation in society as "unclean". She lost 12 years of her life and is never even given a name in any of her healing accounts.
That's the hardest part about living with chronic illness--all the missing. Every day I miss something about the life that I had before the pain. I miss the ease of moving through the world. I miss having the capacity to think and move and love with everything I have, and it has only been a year and a half. 18 months of not being able to clean my house, visit my friends, go swimming in the summer, or do much of anything else for that matter. I miss not having to schedule my life around doctor appointments, injections, assessments, and, physical therapy. At some point, it feels as though this is all that defines me as a person--a forty-hour workweek and medical expenses.
Living in a body that feels broken in a world that does not make room for that is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I imagine the bleeding woman felt the same. The bleeding woman, three of the gospel writers proclaim, in sheer desperation, took healing from Jesus without his permission. She did not ask politely, or beg one more man to heal her. She hid in the crowd, grabbed a handful of Jesus' cloak, and attempted to disappear before any of her neighbors realized that she was there. But Jesus didn't let that happen. The outcast, abandoned woman is given back her humanity along with her body, as Jesus honored both her pain and her healing. That is the Gospel of resurrection.
I like to imagine this unnamed woman going back to the camp where she used to live with those who were deemed "unclean" to care for them. I like to think that she would go on to tell stories about the man who saw her as a person despite a culture that would have discouraged that action. I like to dream that she reclaimed her life and used it to stand in the gap between the "whole" and the "broken".
I wish that finding healing was always as easy as reaching out for Jesus' cloak. I wish that another surgery wasn't on the horizon for me in the next two weeks. But just like Jesus was the bleeding woman's last hope at restoring her humanity, this procedure is mine.
It is hard for me to hope after such a long season of physical suffering, but the image of Jesus bleeding from wounds to show just how far God will go to prove God's love for the world brings some comfort. Jesus' body still being broken post-resurrection as he appeared to his disciples reminds me that God cares about bodies, including, maybe even especially, the broken ones.
There are no guarantees in life--this is my 2020 epiphany--but despite all the pain, loss, and uncertainty, worshipping a God who does not run away from pain, but sits right in the middle of it, and promises to stay as long as it takes for life to blossom from the brokenness is a gospel I can believe in. It is a God who does not promise to take away suffering, but never, ever, leaves those who are suffering behind.
God with us. God with me. Forever and always into all of eternity.