I don’t mean to brag, but I am getting pretty good at this ‘being ill’ thing. By that I mean, I am ill regularly, far more than most of my peers. During this season of illness, I have learned so much, forgotten what I learned, and sometimes relearned the lessons I had forgotten. Part of this constant relearning is an inability to remember the past because of the illness. Another part is a stubborn and selfish nature which is constantly resurfacing. One thing that I have learned, which I usually remember with ease, is that being ill is tough.
Firstly, I have found it extremely tough to come to terms with being ill. This is extremely common with all sorts of illnesses, including mental illnesses. I think/speculate this has a few causes, notably the nature of mental illness and stigma associated with them. One of the challenges I have struggled with this year was how being ill is totally at odds with so many of the messages I was told growing up. Some of these were explicit, whilst others were more subtle.
“You can be whatever you want when you grow up. The world is your oyster” (to be clear, nobody I have met has actually believed that the world is an aquatic animal. It is a proverbial description).
But this isn’t true. I am too ill to work at my current job and way too ill to be a professional footballer.
“If you work hard you can achieve your goals.”
But this isn’t true either. I can’t simply work my health back to better. I need treatment (which has been delayed because of Covid-19. . Working hard at healing is definitely a critical part of the healing process, but only a part. I need help from medical professionals.
“Make sure you are always being productive with your time. Time is a resource to be used well.”
This one is particularly on the nose during lockdown when we all supposedly have more time on our hands. If you were to scroll through social media it might seem that everyone has become expert bakers, learned a new language and started a new podcast. I am over here just trying to learn to cook and clean in good patterns let alone develop exciting new talents.
There are no doldrums in life
The doldrums are an area of the sea where there is often no breeze. It is the area between an easterly wind and a westerly wind. It wasn’t uncommon for boats to be stranded in these ‘in between’ areas for weeks or months. Time in the doldrums was costly and pointless. It wasn’t unheard of for sailors to be driven to madness during these times. This has been well documented by the film ‘Muppet Treasure Island.’
It can be easy to view a season of illness as a time in the doldrums. This is just a ‘before period’ with no other purpose. A time to prep for something greater. A season of delay waiting for ‘real life’ to start.
But the reality is that is wrong. When I view my illness, my goals in life, and my purpose as a human through the world’s eyes it gets depressing. I am a passenger and a burden until I am better and able to contribute. As usual, the way of the world is devastating and degrading.
When I view things through a Biblical lens, a lens where I have an inherent, God-given dignity, things are hopeful and beautiful. They are hopeful because I know that one day the suffering from this illness will go away. God will heal me and all other ailments. They are beautiful because this is not wasted time. This is a not a season less significant than others. This I far more than a delay to God’s plan for my life.
This is God’s plan for my life. This is a time of kingdom building. This is a time where God’s love is radiant and evident.
To rip a phrase out of context, I was put here for such a time as this (doing this because it is a wonderfully pithy phrase. It is beautiful in its proper context in Esther 4). I am here as part of God’s plan. I am ill as part of God’s plan. I don’t think that God wants me to be ill, but I know that this is part of his plan. None of this season is wasted time. It is all God’s time.
My time spent ill is not just waiting to get better. It is not just looking forward to the next step. It is beautiful because God is here now. God is in my life working now. God is using me to bless others now. I am part of God’s plan now.
When I was younger, I always dreamed of doing grand and amazing things. I wanted to lead nations and change the world. At the minute I am really ill and struggling. But by following God I can do small things and change the world. God is changing the world and his kingdom is here. I would prefer it to be by me being the centre of attention, but God knows better.
It is really tough to wrap my head round these things. I still want to be a professional footballer (Raheem Sterling is younger than me. I have probably passed it.) and in some ways feel like all my dreams are dashed or on hold because of my health. But when I try to see things through God’s perspective, life is far more exciting.
An excellent reminder of this is in Philippians 4. Paul is writing this from jail having been shipwrecked and tortured to the point of death multiple times.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.