I’ve had a difficult time of it recently. Though the surgery I had in February was successful, I was rehospitalized a couple weeks later with complications. Urine was leaking into my abdomen, causing severe pain. The doctors fitted me with medical equipment to drain the fluid and to prevent additional leaking, then sent me home, telling me I would just have to wait until my bladder and urethra healed. Because of the medical equipment I’ve been rather restricted in what I can do and am in constant discomfort.
I’ve always been encouraged to look for the silver lining when dark clouds roll in. I understand that adversity builds character. It also has spiritual benefits, causing those of us who believe in God to rely more on Him. So, have I seen any evidence of such benefits while I’ve been sidelined?
I definitely have, and the longer the waiting period goes on the more I become aware of how I’m being affected. I have noticed four benefits.
First, there’s gratitude. Whenever I’ve been tempted to feel sorry for myself, I’ve been reminded of what I still am able to do and to enjoy. I can enjoy my food, converse with friends, read, write, take short walks, and even drive short distances. And my prognosis is good. As I described in a previous post, my hospital roommate during my last stay had a terminal condition; contemplating his situation made me appreciate the relative insignificance of my problems. The relatively benign nature of my problems has been evident to me again and again over the past several weeks; almost every day, it seems, I’ve heard of someone with a more serious health condition than what I have. Plus, I have excellent medical care at a very reasonable cost. Given how good I have it, how can I complain?
Second, there’s patience. I recently read an article by Tobias Winright, who fell in a hotel bathroom in 2012, suffering a traumatic brain injury. He was confined to bed for a month, then had to take a semester off from his job as a professor. He indicates it took him three-and-a-half years–until he wrote the article–in order to heal. He was initially quite annoyed with the limitations imposed by his injury. He found, though, that patience “is essential to being a patient.” He quotes the early Christian leader Tertullian, who wrote that “patience is God’s nature,” so followers of Christ should likewise display patience. Winright suggests we need to be patient not only in response to our problems but also in our interactions with others. When complications developed, the hardships I was undergoing initially made me less patient with others. Over the course of the last few weeks, I think I’ve begun having more patient thoughts. Just as I have my limitations, so does everyone else, and I’m reminding myself of that more. I still find it hard to be patient when I’m in pain, though, so my patience, while growing, has not reached full blossom.
Next is humility. For decades, I’ve worked hard at taking care of my body. I’ve exercised four days a week, eaten plenty of fruits and vegetables, cut down on salt and sweets, and gotten enough sleep. I think I was somewhat proud that, for my age, I had very few health problems. I wasn’t as sympathetic as I might have been with those who hadn’t made quite the effort at self-care that I had and were having medical issues. I’ve always known that factors outside my control played a significant role in my health, but not until the past month has that message become salient. As a result, I’m becoming less likely to take credit for my health. I’m more humble, seeing physical well-being as influenced by what we do but even more as a gift from God, a blessing that we can’t earn.
Finally there’s hope. A couple weeks into my ordeal, I happened to listen to a sermon preached on January 8, 2017 by Andrew Sacks at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in London. The passage on which the sermon was based was Romans 5:1-10, which includes the following:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (vss. 3-5, New Living Translation)
Andy suggested that two conditions are needed to inculcate hope. First, there must be difficulty or struggle in the present. Second, there must be an expectation of a positive future. This future expectation is in turn dependent on having faith that we are loved by God. Ever since I became a Christian almost 50 years ago, I’ve met the second condition. Only from time to time, though, did I have enough hardship in my life to meet the first. The last month has been one of those times. In response to my current afflictions, I’m looking forward not only to the time when my body will be healed but to the eschaton, the time when all things will be made new.
Gratitude, patience, humility, hope. What a remarkable harvest. My sufferings have certainly not been in vain. Thanks be for the silver lining traced around even the darkest of clouds!