Today wasn’t a very good day. Just turning over in bed was difficult and painful. Wrap your hands in about 6 layers of gloves, and put splints on your wrists and elbows so they don’t bend well – then try to brush your teeth with a Sonicare electric toothbrush. And fix your hair. I should have asked for help – but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. So some of my teeth were ignored and my hair didn’t get brushed. Just “combed” it with my fingers – kind of – and stuck a barrette in it. By that time I was so exhausted, I couldn’t even get dressed – managed to put on a housecoat, and slide into my Crocs.
Leaning heavily on my cane, I limped into the living room and deposited myself into my recliner. Himself waited on me hand and foot, despite not feeling well himself. He even made some cotton candy for me. [Did I forget to say Himself bought a cotton candy machine so he could make it for me, fresh? Such a loving, thoughtful man!]
He had also made Raspberry Tart cookies for me for Valentine’s Day. But today, just for a change, I put Black Current Preserves in mine. Delicious.
I read texts from Church and prayed a bit. Now, as bedtime approaches, the pain and fatigue weigh me down. Rheumatoid Disease is a vile disease. Although I try to accept my condition, and to trust in God, I really feel like shaking my fists in the air and screaming, “Give me back my life!”
Then I remember:
“Our Saviour and the God-bearing Fathers teach that our only concern in this life should be the salvation of our souls. Bishop Ignatius says: ‘Earthly life — this brief period — is given to man by the mercy of the Creator in order that man may use it for his salvation, that is, for the restoration of himself from death to life.’ “
And “we should not dread any human ill, save sin alone; neither poverty, nor disease, nor insult, nor malicious treatment, nor humiliation, nor death” (St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues), for these “ills” are only words; they have no reality for those who are living for the Kingdom of Heaven. The only real “calamity” in this life is offending God. If we have this basic understanding of the purpose of life, then the spiritual meaning of bodily infirmity can be opened for us.
Yet, it is difficult to see how sickness can be a sign of God’s care for us — unless, that is, we understand the relationship that exists between body and soul. Elder Ambrose of Optina Monastery spoke of this in a letter to the mother of a very sick child:
“We should not forget that in our age of ‘sophistication’ even little children are spiritually harmed by what they see and hear. As a result, purification is required, and this is only accomplished through bodily suffering….You must understand that Paradisal bliss is granted to no one without suffering.”
So I work on accepting my suffering as a step toward my spiritual purification. And I am grateful to God for this time I am allowed with my husband. Despite pain, despite feeling really ill, I turn again and put my trust in God.
On one occasion a woman was brought to St. Seraphim of Sarov. She was badly crippled and could not walk because her knees were bent up to her chest. “She told the Elder that she had been born in the Orthodox Church but, after marrying a dissenter, had abandoned Orthodoxy and, for her infidelity, God had suddenly punished her….She could not move a hand or foot. St. Seraphim asked the sick woman whether she now believed in her Mother, our Holy Orthodox Church. On receiving a reply in the affirmative, he told her to make the sign of the Cross in the proper way. She said that she could not even lift a hand. But when the Saint prayed and anointed her hands and breast with oil from the icon-lamp, her malady left her instantly.” Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee!
This connection between body and soul, sin and sickness, is clear: pain tells us that something has gone wrong with the soul, that not only is the body diseased, but the soul as well. And this is precisely how the soul communicates its ills to the body, awakening a man to self knowledge and a wish to turn to God. We see this over and over in the lives of the saints, for illness also teaches that our “true self, that which is principally man, is not the visible body but the invisible soul, the ‘inner man’“ (St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, Christian Morality).
Although I did not marry a dissenter, I am aware of many of the reasons I need to repent. Great Lent is near, and the Glorious, Bright, Holy Pascha at the end. Healed or not, this is what I dream of and hope for. The Pascha of our Lord. And the eventual time when Himself and I go to meet our Lord – with no more pain, no more fatigue. This is my focus for Great Lent.