Living With Infirmity
Robert Wayne LaCoste
San Antonio, Texas
The righteous Job declared, "Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1). Trouble; yes, it is inevitable. Jesus sought to soothe the aching heart that possessed it, "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me" (Jn. 14: 1). The apostle Paul who had problems of his own, focused not on his own plight, but rather encouraged others saying, "and to you who are troubled, rest with us" (2 Thess. 1:7).
Perhaps one of the greatest "troubles" in life is the physical suffering that comes out of chronic sickness or infirmity. Jesus knew how much sickness disturbed people and troubled them in body and mind. Often we talk about the reasons Jesus performed miracles. Some seem to think the only reason he did them was to prove that he was God's Son. Well, surely that was one reason. That may have in fact been the main reason, but it was not by any means, the only reason. The Scripture reads, "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick" (Matt. 14:14). When a man who was a leper came to Jesus desiring to be healed, "Jesus moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean" (Mk. 1:41).
Jesus was touched then and is yet touched with our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). As he viewed the masses, he felt for them. Though he was Deity, he knew what it was like to suffer in the flesh (Matt. 16:21) and he was saddened to see such in the lives of others.
Many of us have infirmities that have no cure. These are chronic ailments some of us have had since birth and someday it is well known they will drag us down to the grave with them. Often individuals with chronic diseases never know what it is like to be very healthy; perhaps they are never healthy.
When one's station in life is thusly fixed, it becomes imperative that this one have a very close relationship with his Creator. Now of course, all of God's children ought to strive for closeness with the Father; yet the person with chronic infirmity has a lot of unanswered questions that healthy folks never have to face. The chronically infirmed therefore are compelled to have a unique kind of closeness with him who is the Father of our Spirits. They are dependent in a different fashion upon his mercy than are those of healthy bodies and mind.
Let's talk about some of these questions. Some of these questions will be answered in God's Word; to others we may never find an answer, at least in this life. But after all, gentle reader, if we had answers or felt we needed answers to every question that confronted us in life, surely there would be no purpose or reason for faith.
How Did This Happen?
This question seems all so important to us, or so we think. So often, infirmity wears a mask. It disguises its origin and will not tell us from whence it has come to plague us. At times it will also be 'incognito" relative to its demeanor or behavior. It befuddles the physicians, and turns the many health specialists to simply shaking their heads in confusion. The infirmity or sickness almost takes on a personality of its own. Perhaps it should be looked upon as a person by us. It is a person that surely is an enemy to us, as the Christian has many enemies and "messengers of Satan" to buffet him let's not make the mistake of hating our infirmed bodies. Let's hate and fight the disease, but let's not hate or blame our bodies. We need our minds working together with our bodies for the welfare of each. I'll discuss this more fully in detail shortly, when I begin looking more closely at how to cope with this adversary.
Many diseases are hereditary, others are from lack of proper nourishment and care; still others are contacted through reasons unknown to us. Part of the problem as I see it with chronic infirmity is the insistence we have an answer as to its origin. Do not think me cold-hearted, unsympathetic or uncaring dear reader. Believe me, I care. I know what it's like to suffer, but I am not writing this for sympathy and neither to go into detail with my problem; for that too can be a deterrent to living with our problem. We must not dwell so much on this infirmity that we become obsessed with knowing all things about it. Yes, we must know certain facts, but other matters are simply not relevant to our living with this infirmity. This is surely one of them. Now, hear me patiently. (After all, as I'll also discuss shortly, patience is a must!) If the physicians understand there is an advantage in determining the source of the problem from a biological and medicinal standpoint that's one thing, but otherwise, how shall it profit to ascertain the origin of our infirmity? Will it cure our problem? Will it even remotely ease our burden? If, for example, we decide or discover that the reason we have this illness, is because of a lack of proper parental care when we were growing up or the reason we suffer is because we ourselves did something foolish earlier in life, what then shall we do? More than likely all that will happen is that we'll be too hard on our parents, who are human beings and make mistakes too, or we'll be too hard on ourselves. I knew of a brother in Christ, who when finding out he have given himself lung cancer because he smoked for many years, could never forgive himself for his carelessness and as he put it, "stupidity." Jesus taught that if we will not forgive, then the Father above will not forgive us (Mk. 11:26). Surely this would also and of necessity include forgiving ourselves. Please, I implore you, quit looking for someone to blame. In some cases it will be necessary for some to change their entire outlook and attitude about their infirmity. We must be willing to say with the apostle Paul, changing our sentiments to reflect how we feel about the cause of our woes. Paul wrote, "Forgetting those things which are behind, I reach forward unto those things which are before" (Phil. 3:13). Face this fact and live with it: you have the disease. It's a reality. It's here to stay more than likely. Let's go from there!
Even the righteous Job wondered, as we all do who suffer in this body, "Why is this happening to me?" Job searched for answers. He even expostulates this thought, "This one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked" (Job 9:22). Job was perplexed. He could not understand why the righteous should suffer. In other words, "What have I done to deserve this?" Of course later on, after God's reproof of him, Job then understood that he was wrong to think that righteous people are not also going to suffer in this life. Job learned that this earth is not heaven! Like the rain that falls from God's sky, infirmity also falls on "the just and the unjust" (Matt. 5:45).
Again, we must insist: What good is it going to do to sit around wondering why you have this problem, rather than someone else? You have it! We need to point out at this time dear reader that one's emotional and mental stability or instability, as the case might be, has a great deal to do with the overall health picture of each of us. We must learn to cast aside these "weights that do so easily beset us" when it comes to our infirmities (Heb. 12:1-2). All of this "Why Me" business did the man Job no good at all. It won't help us either. God, in his infinite wisdom, has preserved the matter of Job and his problems, so we might see that we too will suffer, but God is near to us, even as he was his servant of old.
What Approach Should Be Taken?
When a great stone of stumbling which cannot be moved or avoided is in the path of any child of God, he can make only one of two decisions. He can decide the stone is too great to climb and be defeated by it, falling flat on his face. On the other hand, he can at least try to climb it in an effort to reach a greater height. He may not make it all the way to the top, but he can try. The climb may be very hard and difficult. The climb will take great resolve, courage and determination, but the Christian never climbs alone! God our Father, Jesus our elder brother and loving Savior along with a host of saints are always near to hold up our hands, much like Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses when he became weak in his great struggle (Exod. 17:12).
Once we decide to put forth every effort to live with this infirmity and not give up, matters do not immediately improve. We must have a course of action we pursue each and every day. Think of it much like living daily as a Christian. Many children of God are going to be sadly disappointed in the judgment, because they thought the way to the home of the soul was "attending church" and "dropping a few dollars in the collection plate" once a week. Not hardly! Being a child of God is a relationship, a divine fellowship, yes, a way of life! Getting to heaven will not be by accident. It will take much forethought, planning and finally, action on the part of the individual. So it is with chronic disease or infirmity. We must have a course of action which includes:
1. Handling the stress. In the past thirty-five years (of my forty-three) I have, like many of you and loved ones you know, been living with infirmity. A great factor in assisting each of us to cope, but more importantly to keep the problems of the infirmity at a minimum is to understand what the main culprit is. The main culprit is stress. How we handle this creature will determine how successful we are in living with our infirmity. Stress is divided into four basic areas: Physical, Thermal, Chemical and worst of all Emotional. Men of "true science" (as opposed to "oppositions of science" - 1 Tim. 6:20) have told us that, as it relates to the physical, we must not overwork our bodies and minds. They must get plenty of nourishment and rest. Surely the Lord encourages such care when Paul writes, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you" and "No man yet ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (1 Cor. 6:20; Eli. 5:29). We must take care of our bodies that we might present them, "as a living sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1-2). Thermal stress simply dictates that we keep the body from extreme heat or cold. Common sense. Chemical stress means taking time to see what foods help or hinder. Many things we eat are harmful to us. I'm not a "health food nut" by any means, and I'm far from being a heavy man, but even skinny people can have cholesterol problems. We must take caution in what we put into "the temple of the Lord."
The greatest stress is emotional. This form of stress when not kept in check will trigger chemical responses in our bodies that can be catastrophic! For example, it has been proven that the person who will not control his temper invites ulcers and worse a coronary!
Then there's the daily routine of work, raising families and for us who are God's own, "the care of the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28). Surely our spiritual concerns are our greatest responsibilities.
Much of this can wear heavily on a person, and what is bad is that all of these stress areas are accumulative. That is, for example, when a person is bereaved at the death of a loved one (emotional stress) and he doesn't deal with it, he loses sleep and doesn't eat as he should (physical and chemical stress). The stress begins affecting him from every angle. If this person has a weak or infirmed body anyway, the consequences are most dangerous.
So, we are compelled to ask: How does the Christian deal with stress? For the child of God, he is in the unique situation of having the potential of the worst kind of stress, but also the greatest potential of dealing with it. Is there anything more stressful than trouble in the Lord's church? Now, the world doesn't understand that. They figure the worse form of stress is whether they make ends meet on the stock market. To the one whose treasures are laid up higher and whose goals are nobler, the Lord's kingdom and what happens therein is his greatest concern. Church strife and division, yea evil and false doctrine have taken its toll stress wise, on many of Cod's children lately, but as I mentioned, we have the greatest avenue through which to deal with the greatest form of trouble.
A sister in Christ asked me just recently, "Okay, brother La Coste, there is stress, just how do we deal with it?"
The answer is found with the Lord who cares and his people who care! We must learn to be transparent and not absorb to heart the insults, nit-picking or lies of some who are quite short of compassion and understanding. Others are false teachers who misrepresent the truth and us. Surely such can rend our hearts and discourage our spirits. It can harm us spiritually, emotionally and then physically. You can not just separate these three aspects of our existence. They are dependent on each other to help the other! How we deal with problems affects us emotionally and that in turn affects our health. So, dear brother or sister, surround yourself with people you know who love you! There will always be those who do not, especially if you strive to serve your Lord (2 Tim. 3:12). Pray for them, yes, but once you have tried to reconcile or make amends, leave it with them and the Lord. Go on and try to forget. Heal the wounds! At least heal them in your own heart. The Lord will help you. He has promised such and he is one who knows how to "be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15).
2. Realize that hidden blessings are there: Please turn your attention my fellow infirmed brother or sister to 2 Corinthians! In chapter twelve is the account of Paul's infirmity. It was also chronic. We know not what it was. We know not of its origin. Whether Paul had it from birth or that it came later in life we know not. We do know it was no small problem. Look at Paul's attitude about his sickness! Early on he confesses, "I will glory in mine infirmities" (v. 5). What? Why would a man glory over an infirmed body? Paul goes on to explain something well known and understood. As an apostle he was endowed with the ability to receive revelation, and of course with this he also had the "ability to confirm the word with signs following" (Mk. 16:20). However, Paul was not allowed to heal himself, though he could perform miracles, and God did not heal him either. Why? Because it simply was not in Paul's best interest for God to do so. "Lest I should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (v. 7). Pride goeth before a fall and is of the world (Prov. 16:18; 1 Jn. 2:16). To assist Paul with humility and self-abasement, God allowed his infirmity to remain. God did not put it there, as Satan is identified as the one responsible, but neither did God remove it. In letting it remain, Paul simply was more profitable in God's service. The Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (v. 9). Dear infirmed Christian, his grace is still sufficient. Will we not be content with his answer, believing he knows what is best for us? Paul would much rather have those spiritual blessings of God with infirmity than not be blessed of God and have perfect health. For this reason he declares again, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities . . . for when I am weak, then am I strong" (v. 10). Paul had a reputation of having a "weak bodily presence" (2 Cor. 10:10), but he was willing to have such, if such assisted his being pleasing to the Lord.
Dear infirmed Christian, look upon your illness in like manner. There may be blessings you may not yet have even discovered, for you have perhaps been "overlooking an orchid while searching for a rose." Is it possible God's answer to your requests to restore your health has been no, for it simply may not be in your best interest for him to give you good health. What kind of servant would you be if you were healthy? Oh, you may be thinking, "I would be this and I would do that. . . " Maybe, maybe not! Perhaps Paul thought he would not allow the spiritual blessings to go to his head either, but he trusted God who knew what was best. You see, God of truth, knows what is best. We only think we know what is best.
I remember a brother in Christ telling me his blindness was a "blessing in disguise." I could not see any blessing in not being able to see! Then my brother said something I'll always remember, "I will never sin with my eyes as many men do." This Christian trusted God. Sure he would have loved to see his wife and children's lovely faces. He would loved to have captured with the sense of sight the beauty of nature and God's creations. However, he thought often of what manner of man he might have been, if he could have seen and he counted his infirmity as an asset, not a liability! Count your blessings, dear infirmed Christian, for they will surprise you what the Lord hath done!
3. Learn the meaning of patience. A great aspect of dealing with a chronic problem is patience. With stress, the question was asked, "How do you deal with it?" We must also ask concerning patience: "How do you develop it?" Patience is the "ability to do something else in the meantime." The hardest part relative to patience is the waiting. With chronic infirmity, so many are simply waiting to be cured. They may never be. As I've mentioned, it may not be in their best interest to be; it wasn't with Paul. Others, therefore, are simply waiting to pass on and be with the Lord. Whavshall we do between now and then? Shall we hasten our death and prove a greater burden on others by constant complaint and other acts of bitterness? God forbid. Dear fellow infirmed Christian, we are still alive! Where there is life, there is hope, and yet great opportunity, therefore we can at least:
a. Talk to God every day. Prayer is not an exercise in some kind of psychoanalysis as some must think. Prayer is the avenue through which the Christian addresses God. No one else has the right! (Prov. 28:9; Jn. 9:34; Eph. 1:3) Our God is a God of compassion and mercy (Psa. 86:15; Rom. 9:15). These and many other reasons should encourage.us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Sit down, take time and talk to your God. He will hear you and you will be blessed by him. The apostle John wrote, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" (1 Jn. 3:22). What parent is there who will not grant a request of a child who loves and obeys them? Our Father may not give you the answer you want, as sometimes parents realize that to grant a certain matter might not be in the interest of their child, but he will give you the answer that is most beneficial to you. His answer might be no, as it was with Paul. If it is, be content with that and with the fact that he knows what is better for us, even before we ask of him.
b. Let God talk to you everyday. At times infirmity may keep you away from worshipping with the saints, but such infirmity should not keep one from hearing God's word. Let the Lord come to you through his word and teach and nurture you. Every Christian should "meditate upon the word of the Lord, both day and night" (Psa. 1:1-2). Each one should "give attendance to reading" (I Tim. 4:13) that we might "rightly divide his word" (2 Tim. 2:15) and be blessed so much by it.
There is so much in the word of God to comfort and console. The promises of God, the lives of men and women who endured more than we ever shall, the end of life and the life which is to follow. These are only a few things that should build our faith and lift our spirits.
c. Think on these things. I mentioned earlier that we needed to talk about living, really living with this enemy that has afflicted our body. Hate the disease, do not hate yourself, blame yourself or your body. In these things there is no profit. However, there is great profit in not only surrounding yourself with people that love you, but with every effort we need to fight a good fight of faith against this adversary, by doing as Paul encouraged: "Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there by any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). Why dear reader, would God want us to think on these wonderful things if there was no profit in so doing? As a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Our heart is to be "kept with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). When we think of pleasant and wonderful things, such a "merry heart doeth good like a medicine" (Prov. 15:13; 17:22). If such matters doeth good, then thinking sadly on our plight, feeling sorry for ourselves and other such discouraging actions will do us bad. Strive to keep an upbeat and optimistic disposition. You will continue to be blessed and you will be a great blessing to others.
I would be a liar indeed if I said that I have always trusted God as I should, never felt sorry for myself and am the man one should look to as a perfect example of how to live with infirmity. Not hardly! I am a weak and sinful man who needs the mercy and grace of my God like everyone else. However, I have learned to trust him more, pray more, study more and live better all the way around because of his sufficient grace that is continually nigh. We must learn these things! It takes time to learn. They will not come over night, but as with all growth, they will come.
I know not what good may come from what I have written. I hope in some small way, I have helped you, my dear infirmed fellow brother or sister, to better live with your problem. I hope those who are chronically infirmed will write me. We have a lot in common. Christians throughout the world need to cling to each other and help each other. With God's love and blessings and with the encouragement of one another, we will surely be sustained in every way.
I pray for each of you who is infirmed. Please pray for me. None of us knows how long we have left in this life, but if there be many days or few, let's make the most of them with every fiber of our being. Though aged and infirmed, the Scripture says, even while he was dying, Jacob yet "worshiped God while leaning on his staff" (Heb. 11:21). Even then he glorified God. We too must continue to glorify God. We will cause others also to glorify God and this in turn will cause our God to look upon us with smiling favor and "not be ashamed to be called our God" (Heb. 11:16).
One day, all of us will lay our spiritual armor by and our race will have been run. One day we shall be reunited with the Redeemer and the redeemed of all ages. When this finally happens, eternity will not remember our infirmity and how we died. Eternity will only know how we handled life and how we lived.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 14, pp. 432-435