When time stands still

Most of the health problems we encounter in our lives are things we get better from quickly - a sprained ankle, a bee sting, a broken collar bone- However, the ones that really get us down are the few that don't get better. They neither resolve, nor are they terminal - they just seem to hang around like a millstone round our necks. What happened to the light burden of Christ?

Short-term illnesses afford us something called the Sick Role. We are allowed to take time off work and get breakfast in bed, but we are also expected to seek medical help and do all we can to get better. We also have it set in our heads that this is only a temporary thing and life will be back to normal soon. (Ironically, this is an odd thing to wish for, as it may have been our normal lives and their hectic pace that landed us in trouble to start with!)

Some people pursue 'health' with great energy and their quest can take them to many different specialists in many different hospital departments, saying that something MUST be done. But sadly it may be that NOTHING can be done - nothing according to our current start of medical knowledge anyway. All the specialist can do is rule out a couple of the biggies (like for example cancer or an infection) and send the person on their way.

A bad specialist may be insecure in their inability to help and tell you to go somewhere else for an answer that probably isn't there, or give you opiates to numb the whole issue - and this is a major problem with specialisation within medicine, so keep on talking to your GP who should be able to take an overview. However, a good specialist will sit you down and explain that though they and the other doctors don't have an easy answer (or even sometimes any idea as to what is going on), they do understand that the pain is real and you don't have to shout louder to convince them of this. A good specialist does not see the person as attention seeking, a fraud or hypochondriac - they see a person who needs more than just negatives and clear test results as they are still a person in need of help.

One of the major reasons we battle with chronic conditions is that over time the Sick Role wears thin. Even if the Government is still willing to give you benefits, most employers will run out of time and most breakfasts in bed will stop. This can leave us feeling very worthless, as our society values jobs and productivity so much. One thing to do in this situation is consider what you would say to a much older person, say in their 90's, who could no longer work. Are they worthless just because of this, or does God love them just as much as he ever did and maybe a little bit more..?

Christians can also believe that their current situation is a punishment from God, believing that they must have done something to deserve this, (in a former life, said the Hindu syncretist!) and that they must still be out of favour or else he would have healed them. If I have learnt one thing about the theology of healing it is that we can very rarely apply broad principles to individual situations. We can find verses to fit every argument and view point, but at some level we have to trust that he is too good to wish us harm and too wise to make a mistake. Not an easy place to reach, but time is one thing on our sides in this situation!

For most people that is... For some, time has stood still for long enough that it may be about to run out as they consider the ultimate sanction of taking their own life. If God won't end the pain, then maybe I can. Suicide is an answer of sorts, but it has massive consequences for those we leave behind. If you are at all thinking of this, please see your GP or contact Premier Lifeline.

As M Scott Peck said, "Life is Difficult." But time, as someone else said, is a healer. When time does stand still we do have time to think. Sometimes this can take us beyond the Christian snippets we learn wrongly in our youth, like Christianity will make your life perfect and easy. When Jesus promises a yoke that is 'easy', this might be better translated as a yoke that 'fits well' and if you ask any oxen about a yoke that fits well, it will soon tell you (in 'ox speak') that plenty of force and stress can still be transmitted.

The yoke of the Christian life is one that fits humans well. It may not be easy, but it can be tested and found not to be wanting. Our own understanding IS often found wanting at times like these, and this is when we have to press deeper and deeper into God. As GK Chesterton said, it is not that Christianity has been tested and found wanting but rather that Christianity has been tested, found to be hard and so left largely untried. Please can I urge you to keep on plumbing the depths of God as the answers are there. When time stands still, so does His Love. He never changes, never leaves, never fails. We never walk alone.

PS - if you found my comments about seeing lots of different hospital specialists in the hope of answers and cures struck a chord, please see this website by a colleague of mine who is a neurologist and sees lots of people who have unusual symptoms without an obvious cause: http://www.neurosymptoms.org/
Rob Waller, 19/10/2009