Chronic pain is my constant companion, like an unwelcome shadow that follows me everywhere I go. Sometimes it hovers just at the edge of my mind, like a mouse hiding in the cupboards, small and subtle enough that I can ignore it. Other times it’s like an elephant sitting on my chest, immobilizing and forcing me to think of absolutely nothing else. Usually, it’s somewhere in the middle but it’s never something I’m glad of.
That changed a few weeks ago when I was reading Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.
Dr. Brand is a leprosy specialist and he explains that leprosy ravages the body by deadening the nerves. As nerves die in various body parts patients are unable to feel pain and so, unknowingly, damage themselves. Their hands and feet get bumped, burned, or scraped and because it goes unnoticed the wounds fester. The eyes fail to tear and to blink but because there’s no discomfort, the eye dries out and the person is blinded.
The lack of pain means a lack of response to danger and consequently the body slowly, piece by piece, disintegrates.
This realization made me appreciate my physical pain because I know that it serves as an alarm system. When my spine is screaming I lie down. When my eyes ache from the strain of using them, I rest them. My body tells me what it needs and I respond. I respond and the pain subsides.
When not reading Brand and Yancey’s book I have been scanning the news surrounding this global pandemic we’re in. I see protests breaking out across North America against the restrictions placed on citizens’ movement as governments attempt to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. It causes me pain and anger to see Christians refuse the heed to advice of professionals while they continue to meet.
It brings to mind the fact that in the US, churches fought to be exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act when it came into legislation in 1990. It reminds me of the signs of protesters at funerals and parades proclaiming that “God hates…”.
Closer to home, friends on Facebook declare that if we just feed our bodies well and recognize that they are a gift from God then they will function as He intended and we will be safe from contracting the novel coronavirus. This hurts in a personal way because it implies that the uniqueness of my body and my illness is due to a personal failure. Others tout prosperity gospel phrases like “name it and claim it,” equating faith with wellness. If I have one but not the other does that mean my faith is false?
I know I am not the only one to be pained at divisions like this within the Church.
Being part of the Body of Christ means feeling pain when parts of the Body are not in alignment, and in such a large and diverse Body this will always be the case. Our first instinct may be to ignore, cut off, or disown the parts that cause us pain but if we look at the example of leprosy described by Dr. Brand we quickly see that is not a solution at all.
Instead we need to recognize the gift of pain and respond to The Body in the same way I am learning to respond to my physical body. Rather than avoid the issues or disagreements that cause us pain, let’s slow down and listen, taking time to build relationships that have the possibility to heal. Rather than a splintered Body fighting itself, may we strive for a unified whole.