restored to health
The Special Care Baby Unit was quiet, except for the whir and click of machines; ventilators, drip equipment and monitors. The babies slept, some tiny and premature, barely visible beneath blankets and bonnets. Furthest from the nurses’ station, my good-sized baby lay asleep, feeding tubes giving nourishment without the need to expend energy. She would be able to leave the Unit soon, as her progress had been excellent. After six days she was now a healthy baby, who would embarrass me by exercising her lungs vigorously when others there could only whimper. Gazing at her sleeping form, I recalled the past days. Less than a week ago her life held in the balance. After foetal distress for several hours during labour and emergency surgery, she had been born ‘flat’, an apgar level of 1 out of 10. Thankfully I was under general anaesthetic, and by the time I had much awareness she had been resuscitated and was recovering rapidly. A young Scottish doctor had sat at the end of my bed and told me how unwell my daughter had been at birth, and how she might not have survived. A few weeks later it was impossible to imagine that my lively infant had ever had anything wrong.
How quickly we forget times of crisis when everyone is healthy. But it was a lesson in the frailty of life. Two months later, when a friend prematurely gave birth to twins, and one died, I was reminded again of the thin-ness of the veil that separates us from eternity.
At the other end of life, we become increasingly conscious of our moving parts. Joints creak, muscles ache, and limbs feel heavy and feeble. And that’s when we’re well! Bit by bit, bodies protest and wind down, often debilitating and painfully. This too is a form of loss – decreasing mobility and freedom to do the things we used to, and increasing dependence on others. Ageing is humbling. Between the push-chair and the wheel-chair there are endless examples of sorrow, sickness and injury. We all know people who struggle on with bodies that refuse to work properly. Health care professionals see countless individuals – not statistics, but real people.
Yet, with this weakness and pain come opportunities to give and receive compassion; and in many cases I know personally, I think of the selfless care-giving of friends and family. ‘Com-passion’ means ‘with suffering’, and without it this world would be the poorer. The compassionate come alongside those who hurt and, even if physical suffering cannot be relieved, there is empathy – person to person – in a way that we were more designed for than living independently. Interdependence may not be fashionable, but is how we are intended to live. Single people are to be included in families, widows and orphans to be cared for. That was God’s original design, and ironically ageing and suffering often restore something of the balance. ‘Ministering to the needy is not an option for the Christian, but a command. As Christ’s body on earth we are compelled to move as he did towards those who hurt. That has been God’s consistent movement in all history’ [Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It hurts? (Zondervan,1990)] writes Philip Yancey.
Imagine being free of pain; feeling fitter than you can ever remember; able to run, and never get tired, able to fly - and jump higher than is mortally possible; and dance, and skate, and do gymnastics. Imagine breathing deeply of the freshest air, able to climb trees and swing on jungle twine. Imagine performing sporting feats never seen before. Imagine never feeling sick again, never hurting when you knock into something, never cutting your hand, pricking a finger or scalding an arm; never breaking a leg or spraining an ankle; the sore back no longer painful; migraine headaches gone for good; that nuisance stomach problem healed; arthritic hands never hurting again.
what the Bible says…
Jesus didn’t promise his followers a life free from trouble, instead that they would suffer. ‘But take heart!’ he promised, ‘I have overcome the world.’ [John 16:33] He shared our frailties and weaknesses, and conquered them, even death [ 1 Corinthians 15:20-26]. Paul reassured believers that our heavenly bodies will be different from those we have now – they’ll be imperishable and immortal. Thanks to the victory of Jesus, death is ‘swallowed up’ [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. No stranger to suffering himself, he wrote, ‘This short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now… but we look forward to the joys in heaven… The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever’ [2 Corinthians 4:17-18]. Heaven is a place where God will ‘wipe away every tear; death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more’ [Revelation 21:4].