The avoidance of cuddliness
Many of you have been very kind in enquiring about my health, and in regularly expressing your concern for me. Your kindness and prayerful interest is very much appreciated, and I am deeply grateful to God for being called to be part of such a supportive fellowship. I thought I ought to take the opportunity to give you an update.
After five and a half decades of unremittingly excellent health, I was diagnosed three years ago with two apparently unrelated conditions. The first is spinal stenosis and the second is sarcoidosis. It is Lorna’s conviction that I am simply exploring the medical dictionary under s!
Many of you who are reading this probably suffer from spinal stenosis, or some similar condition. It comes under the general label of ‘bad back’. I am learning to manage it, and the greatest disappointment is that it has interfered with my hillwalking pastime. Prolonged standing or prolonged walking on the level induces first numbness, then sciatic pain. It looks as if my “Bucket List” of challenging climbs and walks will have to be radically revised. Kilimanjaro is probably now unrealistic. There are worse disappointments!
The second condition is more problematic. Sarcoidosis is an auto-immune disorder which can manifest in a variety of symptoms, both acute and chronic. With this condition, the immune system seems to go into overdrive, causing a variety of problems. In my case, I have inflammation of the lungs, leaving me with a dry cough and occasional asthma-like symptoms. In addition, some of my lymph glands are swollen, which was what the minor surgery on my neck explored three years ago. Finally, there is a certain level of fatigue to contend with. Other than the frustration of the above symptoms, none of this has seriously interfered with life and I have been able to continue as normal, whilst attending the hospital regularly for the condition to be monitored.
So far, I have not required any treatment, other than inhalers for my breathing. My latest round of tests in May indicated that the condition has neither improved nor worsened. The hope is that it will burn itself out over time, but, if it deteriorates then I would begin steroid treatment, which itself brings medical complications - weight gain and cuddliness being the most visible but not the most sinister!
Up until three years ago I enjoyed perfect health. In that regard my life has been easy, much easier than many of you reading this. Even now, my varied pathology does not interfere with most of my routine living. In comparison with what many of you have been through, my problems are minor, to the point of triviality. Nonetheless, I have been on a steep learning curve these past years…
The Apostle Paul sees his own discomfort and trials as experience which will enable him better to sympathise with others in their pains:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
For the first time in my life, three years ago, I endured the uncertainty and fear and anxiety that surrounds an illness that has yet to be diagnosed. Nowadays the medical profession require to be terrifyingly candid when they are exploring what is wrong with patients. They share with you what might become your worst nightmares. For those of us with an active imagination this can feel like incarceration in a house of horrors until a definitive diagnosis is reached.
I now know what that is like, and I also know it is something many of you have faced and will face. I conclude that we can best help others with their fears and distress when we have been through our own and found God to be our rock and our refuge. So David writes:
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:5-8
David begins by sharing how he found God to be his rock and salvation in the midst of his own distress, and then (v.8) leads others in the same direction.
Finally, here is the one thing that I think is of huge importance to hold on to: God is good. The psalmist tells us:
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations Psalm 100:5
Add to this the insight of the Apostle John:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all I John 1:6
A hospital is a sobering place to be. We all know that there is suffering in the world, but it gathers in concentrated form in the hospital. We accept that we live in a world of pain, but in a hospital it gets up close and personal and is all pervasive. You can see it written on the faces of people sharing the waiting area. The sights and smells and sounds of the place, even amidst all the caring and help and support, nonetheless is saturated with the distilled essence of suffering.
Regular exposure to hospital life might raise the question in your mind: is God really good? With so much suffering in His world, can He be good? I recommend a little book to you called ‘Lessons from a hospital bed’ by John Piper. In that book he refers to George Mueller who built orphanages in 19th century England for destitute children. When his beloved wife of forty years died, he spoke at her funeral on the text ‘You are good, and do good’ Psalm 119:68 and said:
‘All will be according to His own blessed character. Nothing but that, which is good, like Himself, can proceed from Him. If he pleases to take my dearest wife, it will be good, like Himself. What I have to do, as His child, is to be satisfied with what my Father does, that I may glorify Him. After this my soul not only aimed, but this, my soul, by God’s grace, attained to. I was satisfied with God.’
God is good. He showed His goodness to us supremely in Jesus.