by Christine Sine
In last week’s meditation Monday you may remember, I asked the question What actions of God have shaped your life? This week I continue to contemplate my hands and the shaping of God. I am constantly aware of my hands. I watch them move over the computer keys. I examine the garden dirt that encrusts them. I admire the rings that circle my fingers. Hands are such a gift to us and a wonderful tool for reflecting on God.
This week I will focus on the events of my life and how they have shaped me.
I wrote What events have shaped my life? at the top of my page then traced around my left hand beside it. I used a fun multicoloured, watercolour pencil to color my print then washed over it with water to blend the colours, meditating on my question as I worked. Adventure and travel; family, friends and community; faith; singleness and marriage,; creativity and imagination; faith; vocation and calling love of nature; and illness all came to mind. The list kept growing as I thought back over life and thought about who I am and what has shaped me.
I chose 5 key words from my list – vocation; community; creativity; nature and illness and wrote them on the fingers of my hand. I sat in contemplation of each of these and jotted down thoughts about each of these shaping elements of my life.
Surprisingly it was illness that held my attention for the longest time. Not a topic I think much about, yet as I meditated on illness and the impact it has had on my life, I realized this has shaped me in many ways. It is not something I should deny nor neglect. I need to embrace and thank God for it.
Illness has shaped many of the twists and turns of my life. It has brought me heartache and it has resulted in joy. It has drawn me close to God. It has given me resilience and strength that a healthy life would not have provided. Not just my illness either, though I have struggled over the years with chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic dental pain. It is the illness of others that has also greatly shaped my life. My mother’s illness during her pregnancy with me resulted in a premature birth. A month in hospital left me feeling isolated and abandoned, emotions I struggled with for much of my early adult life. Added to that was my father’s intermittent explosive disorder which left my whole family in fear of his rages and outbursts. Now I live my stepson’s schizophrenia and its ongoing impact on our lives.
The suffering of illness shapes all of our lives in profound ways. Our own bouts of ill health, the disabilities of family members and the suffering of our world all contribute to who we are and what we will become. Neglecting these influences makes us into shallow and superficial people.
As I think about this I am reminded of Paul’s struggle with a “thorn”, some form of handicap that challenged his life.
Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
I was particularly struck by the words: “I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.” Every handicap whether it be physical or mental illness, disability, lack of resources, racism, or gender equality can all be transformed into gifts if we lay them in God’s hand. In our weakness Christ’s strength can shine through.
I am reminded as I think about this of friends who struggle with illnesses and handicaps far more incapacitating than I have ever known. Steve Ruetschle, who became a quadriplegic in 2010 following a motor cycle accident for example. He has made an amazing and miraculous recovery but still struggles daily with pain and loss of mobility. God has used his life in incredible ways as he pastored a church in Manila and now is moving back to the U.S. with his wife Michelle and their family. Michelle’s recounting of this journey in Forty: The Year My Husband Became a Quadriplegic is well worth a read.
I think too of Niki Foster Hibbert who died a couple of years ago of breast cancer. Her fun loving personality through those final months of her life, her vulnerability and willingness to share her story with other breast cancer sufferers touched many of us deeply. In her weakness the strength of Christ shone through in amazing aways.
My thoughts go too to Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, on of our faithful Godspace authors. She struggles relentlessly with incapacity from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to a far greater extent than I experienced. In the midst her faith, her vibrant creativity and beautiful gift of art shines through. She too has found strength in God in the midst of her weakness.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe God Wills Healing but that healing doesn’t always come in the way we expect, and the more we focus on our illnesses and disabilities, the stronger we become in our illnesses, the more they handicap us and the less God is able to move through us.
As I contemplated these thoughts I added the words Loved by God across my hand. God’s love shapes me in the midst of my weaknesses and illnesses. God’s love converts every weakness into a gift of life.
What is Your Response?
Look back over your own life and identify the illnesses both in yourself and in others that have shaped you.
In what ways have you ignored or neglected these?
Where have you held onto your own strength and not allowed your weakness to give space for God’s strength to emerge?
In what ways have you denied the gifts of God hidden in those illnesses?
How does your heart call you to respond? Write in your journal, draw a picture, compose a song.