I survived my 20th trip to Africa in the last weeks without any apparent physical problems. I had a brief cold for a few days, but even that was mild. I did not suffer from any digestive disturbances, until I got home! I experienced three days of dysentery which forced me to resort to using my supply of Cipro, the antibiotic that I have taken a few times for a cure in Africa, but never in America.
Those days of pain and suffering I went through are kind of a blur to me now. I was not rolling around in pain, but I was preoccupied with my cure. I went through two other over-the-counter remedies that simply did not do the trick. I then resorted to the nuclear option of the stronger antibiotic. Thankfully within a few hours, I was back to feeling reasonably well.
What that short bout of illness illustrated to me, however, is how preoccupied with illness one can become. I was not fit to do any productive work; I was not interested in engaging conversation; I was not interested in the needs of other people. I was self-absorbed until I got the medicine I needed.
This is a helpful reminder to all of us in the faith community. We are constantly calling people to a higher standard, to a higher commitment, to a higher level of the awareness of the needs of others ... to behavior that acknowledges the other human beings around us and the needs they have that we can meet. All of this is a wholesome challenge because it lifts us from mere self-absorption to a more noble course.
In this process, however, we must recognize that many people are dealing with personal pain that is very difficult for them to instantly rise above. The difficulties they are facing are so consuming emotionally that it is nearly impossible to lift their eyes to the needs of others.
In the last few years, as I have listened more carefully to the personal stories of dozens of young adults it has amazed me to see the combination of family dysfunction and bad personal choices that have left many young people immobilized in life. For those of us looking on, it may seem very obvious what the next steps should be for some of these people ... yet the pain they are experiencing keeps them from seeing clearly.
It is necessary for us to be patient with those experiencing such pain. Instant change may not be forthcoming because of the antecedent factors that retard forward progress. For those of us with influence in others’ lives, we need to do what we can to help alleviate the immediate pain for clarity to dawn on them.
The other side of this coin, of course, is that ultimately the problems of life must be dealt with by the individuals experiencing them. There is no combination of friends and counselors that help people do their own inner work. For all of us, we need to play the hand that is dealt us and rise above the difficulty no matter how hard the immediate pain may be.
As we relate to friends and family it is important to recognize that we can be a source of a two-pronged challenge to them. On the one hand, we can be patient and encouraging to them as they are processing difficulty and pain. It is necessary for people to know that others recognize the challenge they are facing. Spiritual sensitivity is expressed when we empathize with the plight of those who are burdened with life.
As we walk with people through difficulty, however, there are points at which they must be challenged to move forward, get on with life and sharpen their perspective on what is actually happening to them. Some people persist in a depressed state much longer than necessary because no one has shown a realistic light on their situation to reveal the positive possibilities that truly exist that are within their grasp.
A good friend can supply both of these voices in a two-pronged mission of spiritual support. Really, every one of us needs to hear both of these voices in our ears at all times. Life is not easy anywhere these days; the pain that immobilizes has the potential of stopping any one of us dead in our tracks. Our spiritual health is promoted when we seek people in our web of relationships that will minister both encouragement and challenge to us.
May God enable us to provide this kind of spiritual support to those around us ... in our immediate families and in the wider community to lift the burden of life and pave the way for healthy perspectives into the future.
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