This week I have had a horrible time trying to figure out what to write. I have talked to God and asked Him time and time again what He wants me to write to the world of the chronically ill. He has answered me with a deafening silence. Nada. Nothing. Not a word. I sat down to write with no clue what to write. Clueless as to what to do, I did what any writer would do – I did something. I chose the section of scripture I would write about. I read the verses in different translations. I read the introduction to the book of Ephesians. I read a commentary on the section of Ephesians that I’m going to be writing about. Then it happened, all of a sudden, from out of the blue, just when I was least suspecting it, BAM! God smacked me upside the head with a head slap that even Gibbs would be proud of (pardon the NCIS reference.) I realized that I was thinking about this section of Scripture with the wrong people in mind! This week I am writing specifically to you, the wonderful people who faithfully care for those of us who struggle to care for ourselves.
In order to understand where we are going today, we need to understand where we went last week. In the post entitled “Wandering Exile or Dwelling Place of God?” we made the connection of outsiders as the chronically ill and insiders as the healthy people. I want to continue with that thought this week.
“This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief (Ephesians 3:1-3, MSG).”
Be honest with me caretakers, have you ever felt as if you are in prison? In the verses above, Paul says that he is ultimately in jail for Christ, but it is because he has taken up the cause of the Gentiles (aka: outsiders). Paul truly was in prison because of the Gentiles. He was arrested in Jerusalem because of his ministry to and with non-Jewish people. He worked with them, he encouraged them, he defended them, and he fought for their rights and equality within the church. If you care for someone who struggles with a chronic illness, you do the same thing! You encourage us, you defend us, you fight for our rights, and you fight for equality for us on multiple levels. All of this care for us and fighting for us doesn’t leave you much time for yourself. I’m sure you must feel like you live in a prison at times.
I want to remind you of a few things. Just like Paul, God has given you this part to play in His plan. Make sure you seek Him first and most. You are not alone and you do not have to do this by yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Make sure you take time to care for yourself. You can’t care for others well if you haven’t cared for yourself well. “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power (Ephesians 3:7, ESV).” God gave Paul grace and power to minister to the Gentiles, and God will give you grace and power to minister to the chronically ill individuals for whom you are caring.
In verses seven through ten Paul writes that he was surprised at the work that God had him do. He was the least of the saints, writing and preaching about things that were over his head. Are you surprised at what God has asked you to do? Did you ever imagine yourself caring for a chronically ill person or an elderly parent? Did you ever imagine all of the miles of red tape you would have to navigate through or the many phone calls and office visits you would have to make? Paul says that “when we trust in him [Christ Jesus], we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go (Ephesians 3:12, MSG).” Amen to that! Next time you go into a government office with 20 pages of paperwork that needs to be dropped off you can walk in there with boldness, knowing that Jesus Christ is with you and that you are not alone!
We have the tendency to put people, say…the Apostle Paul for example, on a pedestal. We see the amazing ways that God used him and we think that God could never use us that way. We have read Paul’s accounts of the ways that God has used him to be a light to the Gentiles; the Gentiles for crying out loud – all of the people in the entire world who are not of Jewish decent. I mean, really, how can we compete with that?! Paul was born to the best family, had the best bloodlines, was as Jewish as you could get; however as we can see in this passage he was a man of humility and kindness. The way he lived his life and the letters he wrote changed more lives than could ever be counted. This is who Paul was, yet he wrote:
“And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” -Ephesians 8-10, MSG
Paul was just a man. He was a man that suffered greatly. He was a man who was greatly afflicted and close to death many times. He was beaten and shipwrecked, had a “thorn in his side” and spent numerous years in prison. When it comes to caring for someone with a chronic illness, you may be saying to yourself “I’m just a mom, it’s what I do” or “I bring a meal over every once in a while, not big deal” or “I let my employee have a flexible schedule, that’s all” or “I just do a little paperwork for my parents”…. fill in your own blank. Maybe you’re saying “I do it all and I don’t know how much longer I can take it. Whoever you are and whatever you do, God knows. He cares. He has a plan for your life and this plan is not just to care for someone and live in the isolation of a self-made prison. God may have given you someone to care for so that you can “bring out in the open and make plain what God is doing behind the scenes.” Maybe, just maybe, God has allowed you to care for someone who is chronically ill so that you can form a relationship with a nurse you see every week or the pharmacist you pick medications from every week or the person in the department of aging who helps you fill out paperwork or the person in the social security office or the people in the waiting room, or your child’s doctor… These every day, ordinary relationships are opportunities to introduce someone to Jesus, perhaps for the first time. Your routine trip to the clinic could change eternity!
To you, the faithful, loving, over-the-top amazing caretaker, I would like to remind you to keep your eyes open. God has placed you in this position for a reason. Who does He want you to see? On behalf of all of us who are chronically ill, thank you! You are appreciated and you are loved.
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. –Colossians 3:1-2, MSG
© December 3, 2012