What illness teaches


Dr. Hal Brady

Some years ago noted football coach Lou Holtz said something that most of us can relate to. He was speaking of the troubles we face in our lives. Holtz stated, “I know God doesn’t send us more troubles than we can handle, but sometimes I think he overestimates my ability.”

I suppose we all feel that way at times. In our illnesses or troubles, who of us has not wondered if God hasn’t overestimated our ability? Like Lou Holtz and like you, at times, I’ve wondered about that during my own days of illness, surgeries and recovery. 

Thinking of all this, we are going along in life happily and contented – and then something goes wrong. Illness or trouble or tragedy strikes. We experience disappointments of one kind or another. None of us live long without some kind of suffering or illness.

What I want to focus on today is what illness can teach us if we are willing to learn.

First, illness reminds us that we are not in control! And most of us are not happy with that experience or idea. We want to be in control even though we are not. Illness has a way of throwing us off balance emotionally. To some extent, we tend to lose our poise and equilibrium and confidence. Little things can become mountainous things when we are not feeling well. Suddenly, we are not in control. 

The recent death of a minister friend is a classic example of this false sense of control. Along with others, I was with this minister for more than an hour on a Monday morning. Whenever we saw each other we always had a lot to talk about – books we were reading, experiences we had shared, and always our love and concern for the Church. This minister had recently moved to a new avenue of church ministry, and he was all excited and shared the new plans he was making. Then on the Saturday night of the same week, the call came that this minister friend had been killed in an automobile accident. This was another heartbreaking reminder that we are not in control.

Second, illness often brings a new appreciation of life! So often we take life for granted till we are in danger of losing it. However, at that point we cling to it as long as we can. Life becomes precious, and we have a new appreciation of it.

I know a lady who has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for the past 13 years and done it so graciously. This is what she said about her experience. “M.S. Has taught me patience, fortitude, compassion, and an eagerness to face each day and what it may bring. I have learned to let go, grieve, and allow new ideas to emerge. I have learned to embrace those new ideas with a passion. I have learned to appreciate the angels God has placed in my life. I have many things to be thankful for.” And then this friend concluded: “M.S. has done more for me than it has taken from me. I have come to trust God’s plan for me which has allowed me to just enjoy the voyage.”

If we listen carefully, we can hear it. Along with others, God has given this lady a new appreciation of life.

Third, illness enables us to understand the importance of family and friends! Several years ago a British journal offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Numerous definitions were received, but the winning definition was this one: “A friend is someone who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” Real friends stay with us through the good times, the difficult times, the fun times, and the times of illness or trouble. 

I have a family member who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from a very serious disease. He and his wife have more friends than you can imagine. On a recent 45-minute visit with these family members, no less than three friends stopped in for a visit. And that steady stream of visitors occurs every day of the week. While walking us to our automobile, this wife commented, “We are making it because of our family and friends.”

Fourth, illness points out that attitude plays a crucial part in our healing! Jesus asked a man who had been ill for 38 years if he wanted to be healed. “Sir,” the man responded, “I have no one to help me.” You know, there is something to be said for the porches of life. It is so much easier to remain in self-pity. It is so much easier to cling to our illness or problems. It is so much easier to give up and surrender to the odds. “Do you want to get well?” It's a valid question for all of us.

Bernie Siegel in his book, “Peace, Love and Healing,” described an older man who had cancer and remarkably recovered. In describing the man’s recovery, Dr. Siegel said, “Jake is too busy living to be sick. That is his real secret.” Sounds like the importance of a positive attitude to me.

Finally, illness awakens or re-awakens our need for a Higher Power! Not long ago, I talked with a friend who was in the hospital and asked him how he was doing. He replied that three things kept him going: his faith in God; his love for humankind, and his determination to live. Good for him! But note that the first thing that kept him going was his faith in God. That is true for many of us.

It has been stated that there are only two promises in the Bible that sum up all the others. They are more like a whisper than the shouting of most preachers. The first is, “My grace is sufficient for you,” and the second is, “I am with you always.” Notice that God’s promises here are not of talk or explanation but of presence. And isn’t this the way of a friend! 

Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.