The struggle with my calling from God and my own will came to a head in recent weeks. I’ve found myself increasingly more ill from chronic bile reflux disease, which is causing me very painful gastritis and esophagitis. Over the course of the last few months, what previously would be an occasional painful flare up, has turned into a normal way of life for me. My medications are now largely useless and I have had to turn to extreme measures by severely limiting my diet in order to help bring about some sort of healing. Meanwhile I have to undergo a few rather unpleasant tests to see if I need surgery on my esophagus.
I was able to function while in pain for quite some time without anyone knowing how miserable I was until recently. I’ve lost 10 lbs in the last week and my husband has asked me to give up driving until I can return to a normal caloric intake. I wish that I could say that I simply raised my eyes to heaven and said: “Your will, not mine.” Instead, I cried a lot and a torrent of pain I had been internalizing came rushing out on our way to daily Mass today. He’s driving me to daily Mass when he can this week.
Then, as has happened before, my priest gave a homily that matched verbatim everything I had been crying in agony about. The Holy Spirit sought to bring comfort and conviction to me through his preaching. I have felt utterly useless. It is a struggle to make dinner and keep my house clean some days. I’ve been in bed more in the last few months than I have in my entire life. There are times I lay staring at the ceiling in pain trying to pray, but I can’t focus and so I pray seemingly mindless prayers through the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, and Stations of the Cross for priests.
I have fallen into the temptation that strikes all of us in times of illness. I watched it with my husband when he was debilitated by his chronic illness that is now quiet for the time being so he can take care of me. I have watched it for years with my chronically ill father. It is the false belief that our worth comes from what we are able to do, when it reality, our worth comes from the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are loved by Him. Our being is enough.
It is hard to see this truth in a society fully entrenched in the culture of death. We are inundated with messages on a daily basis that our only worth to others is based on what we can do for them or give to them. The unborn, elderly, handicapped, the poor, and the sick are a burden that needs to be hidden away or done away with. Whether we mean to or not, the rampant utilitarianism within our society has crept into our own understanding. I know I have ingested that lie. The belief that it is our use that determines our worth comes to the forefront when we find ourselves not quite so “useful” at different periods in our lives.
Much like my husband did for 2.5 years, I had to finally tell my family, friends, priests, editor, and ministries that I need to take a step back for a little while until I am well enough to function properly. I will do what I can, but it will depend on how I’m feeling on a given day. I can’t be driving around town if I haven’t been able to eat enough calories to keep me from blacking out. My husband rightly pointed out to me that passing out at the ambo during Mass while I’m lectoring would be irresponsible of me. Part of being sick is Our Lord pruning away the parts of our ego that still want to cling to a false sense of power and control.
The reality is, our true worth and our progress in holiness is not solely dependent on what we can accomplish in a physical sense. It is in times of sickness when we are united to Christ Crucified that He often does His most beautiful work and we advance spiritually in ways never previously possible. Even though I may not “feel” like my prayers accomplish much since I lack focus, it doesn’t change that God is at work through them.
My suffering is not meaningless, even though the Enemy is always there in the background telling me otherwise with his lies and accusations. Suffering brings about graces we won’t fully know about until the next life. Illness is a time of growing radically in faith, hope, and charity since it is a time of strengthening the will and a time when consolations may seem in shorter supply.
No, I can’t go where I want to go right now. I can only focus on trying to serve my family as I’m able to and pray and sacrifice for priests. I can only go where He wants me to go, and for right now, a good deal of my time is spent sitting or lying in my bed trying by His grace to raise my eyes to heaven. I will accomplish more in these months of suffering than I have in all of my healthy years. I trust God is at work, even when I can’t see Him.
Your worth is not determined by what you can do. It is determined by God and His great love for you. Don’t let anyone–the world, the Enemy, yourself–tell you otherwise.