Illness with a Purpose
October 1st , 2010
We have so many questions about suffering. Why me?
How can I stop the pain? Why am I
being punished? Books have been written
trying to explain why bad things happen to good people, yet it seems that most
of us have yet to accept their answers because we continue to ask. Near to the heart of our continuing questions
about suffering seems to be an understanding that as long as we’re “good
people”, we don’t have to worry about accidents, sickness, or disease. Somehow only “bad people” have accidents, get
sick, or catch serious diseases. So
then, why me?
With all of the perspectives from these books, there are
two, equally important, but less well-known, aspects. The first of these is that somehow talking
about our illness seems to help. When
our scrapes are minor, we generally welcome attention and don’t mind telling
anyone who will listen about how it happened and where it hurts. When our illness is more severe, we still
welcome attention and still want to tell everyone where it hurts. True enough, talking doesn’t make the pain go
away, but somehow, for a while, the pain isn’t quite as bad.
What is it about talking that seems to help? It may well be that talking is simply a
distraction from our suffering. It’s
hard for us to concentrate on our suffering when we’re trying to describe
it. Most of us are not able to keep two
thoughts in our mind at the same time.
Therefore when we’re describing our pain, we can’t concentrate as much
on the pain itself, hence we’re distracted and we don’t feel as much of the
pain – we feel better. Distractions keep
our mind busy and keep us from focusing on just one thing – in this case, our
suffering. However, when we are severely
ill, it seems like we can only focus on our suffering and that automatically
minimizes our distractions. Talking
about our illness is a welcomed, forced distraction.
The second of the aspects concerns our level of
isolation. The more severe our illness,
the more isolated we become from our surroundings. When our scrapes are minor, we’re still
interested in what’s going on around us.
We’re still interested in news about the stock market, which team won
the Super Bowl, and if there’s enough time to clean the house before the company
comes. We’re still very connected to the
world around us.
Intense pain, however, acts very differently on us because
it commands almost all of our attention.
When we have intense pain, it’s hard to think straight, to carry on a
conversation, or worry about what’s going on around us. About all we can do is to talk about our
pain. While a kiss seems empty of help,
medicine seems minimal, conversation still seems to help. It still feels good to talk to someone about
our problem, even when we say the same thing over and over.
Here’s why these two aspects are important. Our need to talk to someone about our
suffering is a driving force for us to connect with someone else. The isolation we experience eliminates most
of the distractions that keep us from talking to the most important person: God.
If you don’t believe in an all-knowing and loving God, then
you are truly alone, there is no one to talk to. Without an all-knowing and loving God, there
is no one who could understand and care about what you’re going through, what
the pain is like, or how much longer you can take it. Without an all-knowing God there is only “the
luck of the draw” and “chance” for the reason for your suffering. Without someone to connect with and without
any distractions from the suffering, you can only intensify your suffering
through self-absorbed attention.
However, with a loving God, we have someone who cares about
our suffering. With an all-knowing God,
we know that nothing can happen by accident and nothing can take God by
surprise. Therefore, we know that our
suffering has a purpose, because God is involved. We have “design” as a reason for our
suffering. On a human level, our
suffering could be the result of something that we did, like swimming in shark
infested waters or eating something that we didn’t know we were allergic
to. However, on a spiritual level, it
could simply be that God has allowed our illness to happen because He wants to
get our attention, because He wants us to talk to Him for a while.
It’s interesting to see how the two aspects can work
together to bring us closer to God.
Isolation interrupts the stream of distractions and our need to connect
with someone who understands and cares about us provides the energy and purpose
for our conversation. There is an
additional bonus from our connection with God – we get additional comfort (we
feel better) when we lift our concerns and hopes from our shoulders and rest
them on God’s shoulders.