In the days since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become much more aware of things like hand washing and mask wearing in order to stay protected from contracting the coronavirus. Along with protecting us from COVID-19, these practices also have protected many of us from contracting other viruses. From March of 2020 until August of this year, I had not been ill at all! That changed a little over a week ago when I began showing symptoms of some kind of viral infection. Thinking it was likely my turn to suffer COVID-19, I took a test that showed a negative result. My symptoms worsened and I asked Deacon Chuck to lead evening prayer last Wednesday so that I would not share my illness with you. I acquired more COVID tests and continued to take them a few days apart. They continued to show negative results. I did not seem to be getting any better. I finally saw a doctor and it was confirmed that I have an upper-respiratory viral infection. The good news is that at this point, even though I am still showing some symptoms, I am likely well-past the timeframe of being contagious. I am treating my symptoms with steroids, cough syrup, rest, and good old fashioned chicken noodle soup. I am happy to report to you that the treatments are working and I am feeling much better. I appreciate your thoughts and your prayers during my recovery.
This illness has given me time to pause and reflect. One thing I noticed was that I was not able to charge ahead at full speed like I am used to doing. I have a tendency to jump from task to task, trying to keep my mind and body stimulated. I always wake up early and take my dog for a four-mile walk. I work on my reading and my scripture study so that I can prepare for Wednesday and Sunday services. I keep track of the church calendar, trying to navigate the best strategies for supporting you in your ministries. I actively think of liturgy planning and relationship building. This illness, although very minor, has brought much of that to a halt. What I noticed more than anything was boredom and sadness for missing time with my congregation. Serving as your priest is not a job to me, it is a calling. I returned to limited action on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and some of you noticed a smile on my face before the Wednesday service. That smile was because I was glad to be back with you! It is life-giving to spend time with you and to share the Good News with you.
I have spent a lot of time with people in times of their illnesses. There is something about an illness that makes us slow down like that. All of the things we do in our day-to-day lives just kind of stop. And unlike during a vacation, the change to our routine happens very much against our will. I’ve spent time talking to people during their illnesses when they’ve become trapped in their own thoughts. Asking for God’s healing presence and grace. Wondering why this happened to them. Wondering if they should feel fortunate that their illness isn’t as severe as the illness of the person in the next room. “I shouldn’t complain,” I’ve heard people say. “Some people have it so much worse than I do.”
I imagine there’s a good chance you have experienced suffering at some point in your life. Maybe that suffering felt, like my recent illness, relatively minor. Maybe your suffering hit you in the form of a much more serious illness or injury. Maybe your suffering came in the form of the grief of the loss of a loved one. In those times of suffering, what went through your mind? Did you ask God, “Why me?” Did you play down your suffering because someone else was probably had it worse? Did you sit with your suffering and acknowledge the ways it affected your life?
Suffering is part of the human condition. We all suffer. It’s so much a part of the human condition that God wanted to experience it with us. That’s why he sent his Son to live as one of us. Jesus suffered in every way that we do. God knows what it means to suffer. God understand us. If you find yourself in times of suffering, allow yourself to experience the suffering. Refrain from anesthetizing it or brushing it off. Don’t ignore your own suffering just because you perceive that someone else is worse off than you. Their suffering does not negate yours. We can learn through our suffering. Sometimes it acts like a reset button, reminding us that we can’t operate at full speed nonstop. Sometimes we can build empathy for others. Sometimes we can build strength or resilience for the next time around. Think of a weight lifting workout. You might be sore for a couple of days afterward, but next time you’ll be able to lift more. Don’t ignore your suffering. Through your suffering, you can learn to appreciate other things in life so much more. Through suffering, we can learn and grow in love and faith. We can work toward healing and recovery. And we can empathize with others in their suffering and be present with them, assuring them we are capable of relating to them. We are not alone.