I’d Like to be Long-suffering, but…
In October of 2014, I came down with Chikungunya. It’s a viral mosquito-borne illness that had come to the Caribbean after having begun in Africa and having raged through India. For 3-12 days, the sufferer has a high fever, body aches, and fatigue. For the lucky ones, they deal with fatigue and are completely well a week or so after that. Then there are the rest of us. The most common long-term effect is arthritis-like symptoms (usually concentrated in the hands and feet) that last anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.
When I got sick, I had recently begun an exercise program and then suddenly, I couldn’t walk from my bed to the bathroom without pain. As a mom of 4, most of my afternoons are typically spent in driving them to various activities. For a month, I was unable to drive at all because of weakness and pain in my hands. I couldn’t even hold a toothbrush for the first few weeks. Writing is not only my hobby, as I homeschool my children and for months I couldn’t type up tests or even email friends. 5 months later, I could only wear 3 pairs of the shoes in my closet, and I couldn’t wear my wedding ring because of residual swelling.
Face to Face with the Meaning of Long-suffering
Before I had my run in with the mosquito, I would have described myself as a patient person. I have 4 kids, which I always regarded as a crash course in patience. Suffering through what has been a chronic illness, was a completely different level–boot camp! It was at that time that God drew my attention to the fact that in the King James Version of the Bible, what we now read as patience was once also called long-suffering. There’s not part of that word that appeals to me. I don’t want to suffer and frankly, if I have to suffer, I want it over as quickly as possible.
Why Wouldn’t God Just Heal Me?
Chikungunya has no cure. It has no treatment. All you can do is rest and take Acetaminophen for the symptoms. I did pretty well through the first two weeks of the infection when I was feverish. The month after that I think you’d have to give me an F for longsuffering. I was outwardly patient, but as time went on and I couldn’t resume my normal life, I got more and more frustrated. I got madder and madder at God for not just healing me. I knew he could do it. He healed my back 9 years ago in one miraculous night. I tried to reason with God about how much better I could serve Him if I was whole and strong again, but nothing changed.
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Here’s the verse I came to love and hate: James 1:2-3 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Trials Aren’t Optional
Being perfect and complete sounds great but having to deal with trials in order to get there just doesn’t appeal. But trials aren’t optional despite the “feel good” Gospel popular with some TV preachers. In John 16:33 Jesus leaves his disciples with a promise, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The bad news is we will have trouble–not might. Being a Christian doesn’t insulate you in bubble wrap while the world goes to hell in a handbasket around you. Sometimes it doesn’t even insulate you when hell seems to be in your own body. Christians get sick and eventually we all die. But here’s the good news–He has overcome the world. So even in the middle of pain and suffering and frustration and weakness, we have a Savior who feels our pain and who never leaves us.
We Don’t Always Get Answers
I have no idea what lesson I was supposed to learn through this experience. You can ask my family, but I’m pretty sure I’m in no danger of vanishing in a blinding flash of perfection either. And yet, I think I understand a little more about what other people who are in this boat of chronic illness are suffering. It was almost 10 months until I was able to put on my wedding ring, wear my cute shoes and type again, but hopefully, my experience can help someone else who is struggling with the same pain and frustration. I’m in no hurry to sign up for another dose of longsuffering, but I hope God gives me the wisdom to make this one count.
The Prayer of My Heart
Lord, I’ve got no idea why this happened, but I’m believing that you have a plan and that you love me even though I don’t understand. When my shoes didn’t fit or I couldn’t bend one of my fingers, I failed in the patience department and sometimes I would just sit down and cry. But Lord I know this life, suffering included, is a journey. Help me through the bumps in the road that feel like canyons. Hold my hand and remind me of your love.