What Chronic Illness – and COVID-19 – Can Teach Us About What Matters.
The Lyme4Lent Challenge was planted in my own suffering. It was a way to connect humanity to the invisible plight of those suffering chronic illness, and then to the hope of community and fellowship in our shared experience. World events exponentially pushed that seed to bloom with COVID-19. In a way I never could have imagined, the chronically ill suddenly had a parallel with the entire world, a way to show them what we have faced for decades, on a daily basis, struggles unseen and unheard, until finally our voice got a little louder with the megaphone of a pandemic.
Life during the COVID-19 pandemic (“Coronialism” for short, no politics intended) has been an interesting opportunity to observe and reflect on all that I’ve learned from Lyme disease: how to think for myself, how to do independent research, how to protect myself, how to plan ahead and survive through chaos and confusion, how to persevere through isolation and fear, how to cling to truth and faith when everything is so uncertain.
And I find this exploration continuing as the world turns and the crisis evolves once again into racial tensions. What piques my interest is, despite the fact that Black Lives Matter and other civil rights movements have been active for years, that police aggression, systemic racism, and prejudice have been spawning protests for decades, that only now does the greater share of society seem to be engaging in the conversation. Only now have my social media feeds turned black, only now are giant corporations making massive systemic changes, only now does anyone seem to “get it.” Or maybe it’s just me.
My own understanding of the issues has evolved only since contracting Lyme-MSIDS, when life stopped, and I suddenly had all the time in the world to observe, listen, and get my core shook by the hidden injustices and insufficiency of our medical system, government, corporatocracy, and churches. Only through suffering myself did I come to understand what it’s like to be alive but invisible, loud but unheard, gaslighted, blamed, and shamed. Though terrifying and horrible, Lyme disease gave me the incredible gift of empathy, of understanding, of time to evaluate what really matters.
And I wonder if the world is experiencing the same phenomenon. Could we only hear minority voices after our own lives were shut down and quieted? Was it necessary that we should lose our jobs en masse, be forced to be still and quiet in our homes, silence the hustle and bustle of life’s rat race in order to just listen? Was it only when the stock market plummeted, when corporations faced losing everything, when the economy was in ruins, that CEO’s were able to remove the dollar signs from their eyes and see instead their employees and the morality of their practices? Was it only when there was nothing to lose, financially or politically, that they were willing to make systemic changes?
Is it only when we ourselves have lost faith in the government to protect us, when we see the shortcomings of the CDC and WHO, when we ourselves are affected by the injustice of politicians deciding what is essential, and which businesses matter, that we can admit that there is something wrong with the system, that leaders and entities have no right to determine whose lives don’t matter? Is it only when our rights are waived in the name of public safety that we can even begin to understand the nuance of civil disobedience? Is it only when our lives completely crumble and descend into chaos that we become willing to rebuild from scratch, free of prejudice, on a foundation of common sense, truth, equality, and enlightenment?
I know it is so with Lyme. “You don’t get it until you get it.” And I hope it is so in the world, because that means this crisis will not go to waste. We, as a society, have just been given an incredible gift – a chance to “get it” in the relative safety of a modern pandemic. Maybe we can “get it” before it takes more war, or genocide, or worldwide famine, or a greater plague. “Post-Coronialism” presents the perfect opportunity to build a “new normal” to replace the old normal that was so hurtful to so many.
Lyme for Lent, Peace for Pentecost
Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was the yearly festival being observed in Jerusalem when the apostles gathered in Acts 2. It occurred 50 days after the harvest season began, with thanksgiving for God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 16:9). It also commemorated 50 days after the Passover, when the Hebrews were freed from Egyptian slavery and Moses was given the Law by God on Mt. Sinai. And now in the new covenant of Christianity, it would mark 50 days since the Resurrection, when the apostles were anointed with the Holy Spirit to go forth with the Good News.
As such, Pentecost seems a fitting time to observe the harvest of what we have sown during Lent, to recognize the greatest commandments, which God has hopefully given us a new heart to follow, and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a new life of service, cognizant of what our suffering brothers and sisters are enduring.
1. The Harvest from Lent
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
As we have seen, the Lenten exercise is not a self-serving one. It is not solely for your benefit or blessing or your better relationship with God. It’s not a badge you earn to get into heaven. It is a preparation for service. Suffering and temptation are fields in which you are planted and grow, for the purpose of a greater harvest. As you rest assured that Lent only lasts 40 days, you can be sure your life’s trials and suffering will also come to a fruitful end. Don’t give up in the growing season. Persevere until harvest. Give thanks for your bountiful growth.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
2. Obey the Greatest Commandments
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Suffering, be it from 40 days of Lent, chronic illness, or “Coronialism”, prepares our hearts to fulfill the two greatest commandments Jesus asked of us: love God, and love your neighbor. As our trust in earthly institutions fails, we see the need to lean fully on God’s character and His promises. He is our only hope.
We also see the importance of community and understanding one another. We either follow Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:31-32 to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” or we face perpetual war and unrest, on a national scale and in our personal lives.
3. Go Forward in the Holy Spirit
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19
Observe Pentecost as the moment your new life begins. Let your new awareness, gained by sharing in suffering, propel you into reconciliation, with both God and His people. Let the fires of protest light in you the ability to learn the language of your silenced and overlooked brothers and sisters, and speak to them. Go forth in love, in service, and in fellowship with God’s beloved who are different from you; differently tongued, differently abled, differently pigmented, differently traumatized, differently gifted.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8