by Meredith Berger
Last week I fell extremely ill very suddenly. I woke up a little shaky with a slight fever, but made it into my office. Then things began unraveling quickly. My fever spiked, my chills grew, and nausea hit. I went home with flu medicine and didn’t leave my bed for 48 hours.
I can honestly say that was the worst I’ve felt in a long time – maybe ever. Barely able to even lift my head, I had to forego writing this blog last week. Unable to do anything or speak to anyone, I spent a lot of time in my own head. At one point I felt so sick and alone, I thought to myself “This is it. This is how I go.” Perhaps a bit dramatic, but being sick with the flu or temporary ailments you’re not used to can bring about such dark and miserable thoughts. In the thick of it, you truly contemplate giving up. When the light at the end of the tunnel begins to appear though, that outlook completely changes.
The sheer misery juxtaposed with new found hope makes recovery feel like the best thing that’s ever happened to you. When I could finally hold down Gatorade, I felt as if I’d won the lottery. It’s like when you can finally breath out of your nose after a week of a bad sinus infection, or when you wake up one day and your pounding migraine is gone. It’s this feeling of relief that is so overwhelming and joyful, and exists only at the end of pain and suffering.
I read this book a few years ago called Where is God When It Hurts by Philip
Yancey. It makes a case that pain is necessary in life, referencing a group of
lepers whose nerves don’t work due to the disease. Because they cannot feel
pain, they overuse their muscles and their skin and break apart their bodies. Yancey writes, “Pain allows us, the fortunate ones at least,
to lead free and active lives. If you ever doubt that, visit a leprosarium and
observe for yourself a world without pain.” I can only speak to temporary
illnesses such as the flu, but I believe it did help me appreciate my life and
do more once I was healthy again. I didn’t have this clarity while going through
it, but once I slowly regained my health, small tasks appeared to me more
beautiful and special than before. The ability to walk around my house, to
drink water, to even go outside – all of it made me smile and feel grateful.
Yancey continues, “[God] transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward him.” In the midst of it, I felt very alone. It gave me time to pray and ask “why?” It made me think why is this happening to me, why does this virus exist, and more importantly why does this happen to thousands of others, including children and the elderly? People die daily from dehydration, starvation, the flu, and similar diseases that, in theory, are curable. I didn’t get answers, but something I remembered from Yancey’s writing is, “Because of Jesus, I can never say about a person, ‘She must be suffering because of some sin she committed’; Jesus, who did not sin, also felt pain.” I don’t know why these illnesses exist, but they do, and they don’t discriminate. Turning to God helped me in my recovery, and it made me realize God doesn’t necessarily play a role in physical illness or bodily recovery – God is there for your spiritual stability and soul’s health. I think we often are tempted to believe God’s curing us or God’s punishing us, etc. but His role might not be as direct as that, “We can literally become better people because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us—not in the things that hurt—helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.”
Looking back, I never want to relieve what I went through, but I am thankful for the experience. I learned more about my relationship with God, I feel more empathy towards others going through illnesses and experiencing pain, and I grew in my relationships with those who found time to help me. My roommate Susan recently overcame illness herself, and played a huge role in my recovery. Her understanding was comforting and as someone who knows pain, she was able to provide the best help. Yancey writes, “The first step in helping a suffering person is to acknowledge that the pain is valid, and worthy of a sympathetic response.” It’s not always easy to understand someone’s hurt, but after going through it myself, I hope to be more helpful to my suffering friends in the future. Especially during this time of year, when many people catch colds and other ailments, let’s be as empathetic as possible and try to remember, whether it’s you or a loved one who is ill, there’s a great spiritual happiness waiting at the end of the pain.