I think whoever finds an antidote for the more than 200 viruses that cause the common cold will become an instant billionaire, and receive the praise and gratitude of people everywhere. Having coughed and sniffled my way through three out of the last four weeks, I know I’d be standing in line to thank them!
Apparently, no one can ever develop immunity to these viruses—there are simply too many of them. That’s why the common cold is so (ahem) common. For some people, including me, these viruses can also lead to infections like sinusitis or bronchitis, and so a cold is never just a cold.
But before your eyes glaze over, let me assure you that this post will not be a list of health complaints!
After three weeks of not being able to do very much, I’ve had good reasons to think about sickness and how it affects my life. And I’ve had lots of time to think about how I can grow as a Christian when I’m so desperate to defeat the bugs that afflict me.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick I often feel useless. It’s true, I want to get better and stop feeling lousy. However, my sinus brain insists that not only does sick equal useless, but useless equals worthless and worthless equals irrelevant.
According to this reasoning, the world is passing me by and getting on fine without me. And so, more than anything, I want to get off the sidelines and get back into the game.
Frustratingly, I react badly to the medications that help others to tough it out and keep on going. “Cold? What cold?”
All I can do is rest and wait for the virus to finish doing its thing. But then I feel even more useless, because I’m not very useful while I wait.
Although it’s taken years, I think I’m finally beginning to view sickness differently—not just as an unwelcome interruption or a weary trial to be endured with patience. These persistent, nagging viruses have helped me to realise how much my sense of worth is influenced by what I do.
When I can’t ‘do’ I feel like a burden. And when I can’t contribute it’s easy for me to feel worthless. So, one of my biggest temptations when sick days turn into sick weeks, is to feel sorry for myself. And I’ve discovered that while some sins love company, I can have a pity party with just one invited guest—me!
But like all sin, self-pity puts me at the centre. And like a bad smell, the temptation to give in to self-pity can hang around me all day. That’s when telling myself to “Stop it!” is about as effective as pretending the smell isn’t there!
So I’m learning to watch out for it and to ask for God’s help. And if I do succumb, I try to be quick to confess it and seek God’s forgiveness straight away.
For whether I keep it hidden in my heart or allow it to make me selfish when I’m with others, feeling sorry for myself is unlovely and offensive to God. But in his mercy, when I humbly take my sin to him he frees me to live with him at the centre again.
When I’m sick I’m vulnerable not only to temptation, but also to the devil’s lies and accusations. He would love me to be distracted by my blocked nose, persistent cough and lack of energy. He would love me to focus on how weak and sinful and useless I feel.
But I mustn’t let myself be duped. I need to understand that when I’m sick I’m not actually on the sidelines at all. I’m not out of the game. The truth is I’m in the thick of a spiritual battle being waged in my heart that is as real and as serious as any physical battle.
And my heavenly Father has given me the resources I need to participate in the battle, with his help to stand firm, on his side. Without them I really would be useless—a pushover. Worse than that, I’d be dead meat.
In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul calls these resources the armour of God—standard-issue equipment for every Christian believer. He’s deeply serious when he writes:
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:13-17).
It’s a familiar and fortifying image for many Christians. But have you ever noticed that only the sword of the Spirit—God’s Word—is a weapon for attack? Every other element of the armour is defensive.
And have you ever noticed that Paul names only one enemy—the evil one? How wonderful then that every individual element of this armour, including the sword, is forged by the power of God to protect us from our enemy.
So, no matter how weak or vulnerable or sinful I am, my primary task in the spiritual battle is to put my trust in my heavenly Father. I must remember who he is, hold on to the truth of the gospel and stake my life on it.
The reality is, I’m never sidelined from the main game no matter how insignificant or feeble or useless I might feel. Like Christians everywhere, I’m a foot soldier in the midst of an almighty cosmic battle, although amazingly, it’s a battle God has already won for us in Jesus. How wonderfully he has saved us!
It’s not wrong to hate being sick. What matters is to recognise the spiritual dangers that lurk within sickness. It’s not wrong to want to be useful either. But what matters is where I find my sense of worth. It’s not wrong to enjoy the affirmation and reward of a job faithfully done, and yet, what matters more than anything is from whom I seek it.
Whether I’m sick or healthy, I am always dependent on my heavenly Father and so I should turn to him, for help to fight the good fight. It is only in him that I find my sense of worth, and only from him that I anticipate receiving the best affirmation of all:
“Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21).
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