Surprising lesson learned from our 3+ months of sickness

'Medical thermometer' photo (c) 2010, Keith Ramsey - license:

Ever since mid-November of 2012, members of our family of six have been suffering from sickness, one after another, with at most a few days of reprieve in between. It’s been a tough few months, especially while taking care of an infant. Reading Wendy’s Facebook timeline from the last few months, it was like our house was a constant war zone — and I’m not sure this thing is over or not. Yet this journey has taught me a somewhat surprising lesson.

At the beginning, it was mostly the three older kids who got sick one by one — common cold during the winter season. After a month, Wendy started getting sick as well. Even the baby had some running nose. The younger kids then had another round of cold and flu symptoms. And when we got better, we let loose and ate some fried food, and then everyone started coughing and sneezing all through January. A couple of them even had eye infections.

"We got sick again!"
“We got sick again!”
"Headaches, chills, coughing... when does it end?!"
“Headaches, chills, coughing… when will it end?!”

It was around this time that we started thinking, “There’s no way we could be chronically sick for so long! There must be a reason!” So we started placing blame. “It must be that kid that came to our house that spread the germs to us!” or “We should not have eaten at that restaurant!” We thought about giving up the dog because we didn’t even have time and energy to take care of multiple sick family members. Friends chime in with their kind-hearted advice and help. Some offered us humidifiers. Others gave us aroma therapy. Wendy got some Chinese herbal medicine.

And then I started getting sick as well. After two months of pridefully thinking that I was immune to the “Chan family epidemic,” I got stuck with bad cough for over a week.

This week I got sick again. I knew I spent too many nights working late into the night. I felt a sense of achievement that I was able to resolve a bunch of home finance issues, and I finished filing the tax return in February! I also had to work overtime to meet the deadlines of a couple of projects at work, and I was catching up on an online TV show, so I stayed up quite late. On Thursday morning, I felt a bad headache. I also felt like I couldn’t regulate my body temperature. It was stupid of me to still drive to the office, only to leave early and come home to discover I had a fever. I felt chills and I felt my lack of sleep. I crashed in the bed and still felt pretty sick after hours of sleep.

And then I started getting into the blame game as well: “Perhaps the kids aren’t washing their hands thoroughly!” or “Why do I feel so cold! What’s wrong with our heater!”

It was at that moment that an innocent comment by Wendy woke me up: “Hey, look at what you’re wearing! You should be wearing a jacket!”

She was right. Why did I assign blame on other people when I should’ve been looking at myself? What went wrong? To start off, I trusted the satisfaction of my achievements (home finance, work assignments) more than God. On top of that, I wasted valuable rest time by watching some online show. I was prideful for thinking that I wouldn’t get sick, and now look where I am. And of course I should be wearing a jacket when it’s cold.

I read an article called “Can blaming others make people sick?” in which researchers find that if you harbor blame and bitterness, you’re more likely to get sick. But I think it’s more the other way round: when you get sick, you’re likely to try to blame other people for it.

I discovered Psalm 38, a peculiar psalm that speaks to me. Please read it. The psalmist was apparently suffering from lack of strength in his flesh and bones (v.3), headaches (v.4), wounds (v.5), depression (v.6), burning sensation (v.7), failing eyesight (v.10), lots of pain (v.17), etc. But the psalmist doesn’t think he should blame others (v.14). He thinks he’s sick because of his own sin (vv.3-4,18), his own foolishness (v.5), his restless heart (v.8), and perhaps it’s God’s will to discipline him (vv.1-2). Interestingly, his hope is not in medicine. What he realized he needed to do was to confess his sins (v.18) and to wait for God (v.15), because he is certain that God understands his sorrowful state (v.9), that God will answer (v.15), and that God is his Savior (v.22).

I heard a second-hand story about a pastor who suffered a sudden bout of sickness, such that his entire body was in pain. He tried to sleep, but his sleeping position gave him incredible pain. He tried sitting down, but it was painful as well. Standing up was uncomfortable. After some experimentation of different body positions, he finally found one and only one position which didn’t yield any pain — a kneeling position of prayer. It was like God was teaching him that the only way out was to rely on God.

We tend to blame others for our own problems not just because we’re physically sick, but spiritually sick. In fact, everyone is spiritually sick, because we all need Jesus to be our doctor (Matthew 9:12).

And the great irony is that Jesus, who is not sick, and who heals our hearts, does not blame others, but he takes the blame for all of us by dying for our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). And that’s why he’s our most wonderful Savior.


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