December 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time of year. The reason why is obvious: Christ’s birth represents our redemption from sin.
But for me, Christmas hasn’t been a particularly joyful experience lately. I imagine there are plenty of other people who feel the same.
The primary reason for my disposition is an ongoing, still undiagnosed ailment that started in April of 2018.
It’s frustrating, even infuriating, that I, nor the two dozen or so chiropractors, doctors, and specialists I’ve seen, have yet to find a way to heal my body. I’ve stopped keeping track of the time and money I’ve spent on the tests, scans, and supplements I’ve gone through over the last twenty months.
When I first noticed the symptoms, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. I was told it was stress-related and that I just needed to “relax.” I did. But things got worse.
To make a long story short, I quickly had to realize that I wasn't invincible, that my body was in fact broken, and that I very well could die sooner rather than later. To a former athlete who never once had a serious medical condition, this was extremely difficult to come to grips with. I started to meditate on death and eternity and began learning everything I could about nutrition, gut issues, autoimmune disease, nerve function, and cancer.
Spiritually, I was a mess, always focusing on my symptoms and sometimes falling into the trap of telling myself how “pointless” life was. “If God made us to suffer, why did He even create man in the first place?” I began to think.
During the summer months, I w0uld visit the local cemetery to pray for the dead. In return, I asked them to intercede for me and beg God that I would be cured or, at the very least, that I would have the strength to get through whatever this affliction was.
In the evenings, I would go to Eucharistic adoration, repeating the penitential psalms — especially Psalm 6 — over and over.
“Rebuke me not in thy indignation, O Lord, nor chastise me in thy wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, Lord, for my bones are troubled…my soul is troubled exceedingly.”
When those prayers weren’t answered, I began to get angry and sad. Sometimes I’d be up until 3:00am due to my illness. I’d weep and shout at God.
“What are you doing to me, Lord? This is how you treat me after all I’ve done for you? What do you want from me? I stand up for you every day. I’ve lost friends because of you. Are you kidding me?”
Despite many trips to the gym, eating tons of vegetables, and losing 60 pounds, I realized that this ailment wasn’t going anywhere, and that maybe that’s what God wants for me right now.
I re-read some spiritual warfare books I had stashed away in my library to see what St. Alphonsus, St. John of the Cross, and others had to say about suffering and chronic desolation.
The gist of what they said is that illness is part of God’s divine plan. He wills it for us sometimes to make us realize how fragile we are and so we know that our home is not here, but in Heaven. He also uses it to make us more reliant on Him, to test our fidelity, and to give us the chance to expiate our past offenses and unite ourselves to what He was feeling on the cross.
The scales fell from my eyes when I read that. We all want health, vigor, and strength. No one wants to be bedridden or experience a degenerative illness. But there are so many graces we can win and so much pleasure we can bring to God by enduring — patiently and with joy — the sufferings He sends us. The key is to submit ourselves to them and to offer them up, saying, as Job did, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of God.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been praying that these last couple months. When I do, I’m reminded of how the world around us despises that prayer.
How many people, for example, when they are sick or facing a terminal disease, curse God and, as I did, think He is being unkind and uncaring? How many people end up killing themselves to “escape” their ailment thanks to “death with dignity” laws?
“God was sending you your ticket into Heaven!” I think to myself when I hear assisted suicides stories. “He wanted to let you do your Purgatory here on Earth!”
This Christmas, even though I am still sick, I have reason to be hopeful and, yes, even joyful.
Christ’s birth reminds me that God sent His only son into the world to save me, to suffer for me, and to be an example for me.
I might not be entirely happy about the cross God has sent me these last twenty months, but I know that as long as I endure it patiently, and joyfully unite what I am experiencing with the immense pain and suffering Christ went through at the end of His earthly life, God will never abandon me. What more could a soul want?