“The friend who can be silent with us, who can stay with us in an hour of grief,
who can tolerate not knowing, not curing,
not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen
I had a new experience this week. One that I hope I’ll never repeat. One I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I experienced food poisoning. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, it was awful. Being that intensely sick, even for 24 hours, reminded me of a few important things that I’d like to reflect on with you.
First, thank God for every day of good health you do enjoy. If you are able to get up and go to work, go to class, go about your business, thank God! If you can get up and move without feeling like an NFL lineman is pummeling you in the gut, thank God! If you can stand on your own two feet with a clear head and without toppling over, thank God! Because I feel good so many days of the year, a day and a half of misery has sharpened my gratitude for everyday good health.
Second, be more cognizant of others who don’t experience a lot of good days, healthwise. I’m thinking here of those who walk around every day with the prickling numbness and throbbing jabs of neuropathy. Of those who live their lives while suffering continual aching in various joints from arthritis. Of those who live with the unpredictability of migraine headaches, epilepsy, bouts of depression, and panic attacks. Of those who suffer the chronic pains and physical challenges of fibromyalgia, severe allergies, asthma, and diabetes. Of those fighting the good fight against various diseases, some treatable and some not. Cut them some slack if they complain to you a bit about their chronic pains; I promise you, I told every person I met about my food poisoning for the next three days.
Third, unless you’re a medical professional, your job is not to fix your sick friend. Not all illnesses are “fixable,” even for the pros. Chronic illness is one of the reminders we receive in life and we are not as much in control as we’d like to think we are. In such situations, a listening ear, a caring demeanor, a follow-up text to check in all can go a long way. Being able to sit with your friend in the time of not-knowing, in the zone of not-healed, in the midst of the unending pain, is an important gift. Great bedside manner is not just for doctors! May God bless us with the ability to console others in their afflictions, as God has consoled us in ours (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).