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Being Well When We’re Ill: Round 1

I’ve had Being Well When We’re Ill, a Christian take on Chronic Illness by the theologian Marva J. Dawn for a week now. I was wary of it at first, as the first two chapters are rather dark, speaking to the soul of a downtrodden spoonie, and this I understand. I often cry out in writing to other chronically ill and disabled people in the hopes of touching someone else – and Marva does exactly that.

Marva herself has multiple illnesses and at times is a wheelchair user. Still, she does many wonderful things. She travels to speak at conferences, sings, teaches children, and still goes on missions trips! The book quickly becomes uplifting and a delight to read, while still staying doctrinally sound while never being preachy. The book is full of tenderness while explaining some basic tenets of Christianity, as if she is grabbing a long time Christian and slowly guiding them home to comfort, or bringing a new visitor in and seating them home on the couch.

There are many golden nuggets in this book and I’m not quite a third of the way in yet, but this gem made me smile from my lower belly up to my retinas:

“Author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) is known for her novels and short stories dealing with people’s vain attempts to escape God’s grace. Before she died of the lupus that crippled her for the last 10 years of her life, she recorded some of her struggles in letters to friends. In one letter to Louise Abbot she wrote,

‘I think that there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What some people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than to not believe…

Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.

… I don’t set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead…. you arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things for you. It is trust, not certainty.’

The spiritual practice of recognizing that Jesus called us to take up our cross (and not our teddy bear!) enables us to live with the uncertainty of abiding in faith. Even though we cannot know or feel with certainty, we can know the Trinity with trust because we participate in it with Jesus, whose cross conquered sin and death forever. That we know!” – Marva J. Dawn

As someone who has grappled with the idea of God on an emotional level since childhood, but still looked for him everywhere, searching until my heart broke and I left the faith to come back as an adult, I often felt defective. I never felt like a real Christian. But this passage maybe makes me believe I have credibility of a sort. We seek and we find, but what we find may all be different. For those of us with chronic illnesses, our finds may be drastically different!

I am looking forward to the rest of this book. For any other struggling Christians, I have a question so I know I’m not alone:

Have you watched the SNL movie Superstar? If you have, do you find Will Ferrell Jesus weirdly comforting? I always find the idea of God easier to grapple with after watching Will Ferrell Jesus. It’s weird. It’s irreverent. I know. Probably need to get my salvation card back from the library.

Recap:

Pocket full of starlight: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on a light.” – Albus Dumbledore

Pocket full of darkness – Was Albus Dumbledore just that kid who made one-liner witticisms in class? Then he grew up, became super old and grew a beard so instead of being that jerk in class people now think he’s wise?

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