Saturday, July 6, 2013

Can illness and pain be an idol?

I have heard and read much lately on the idols we North American Christians have.  In fact I've even taught my youth girls about them.

I'm sure you've also heard about them.  You know, those things that in and of themselves are not bad, but if they go unchecked can begin to consume our time, our thoughts, even our hearts.

Living in a college town that seems to worship at the altar of football, I know how sports can become idol-istic.  Foolish fans with faces painted half one color and half another.  (Didn't the Picts paint their faces like that when they went to war?)  The elaborate tailgate parties, you know, the ones with white table clothes and silver chaffing dishes, where the tailgate is nowhere to be seen.

Or there are careers of many kinds, all paying dividends, sucking our lives and our time, requiring more and more of us.

Or eating?  Oh, yes.  I'm going to say it.  Gluttony can be an idol.  I know.  I battle it.

Our families, our bodies, our health, and on and on it goes.

But what about the things that we wouldn't consider to be idols because they aren't good for us?  You might agree with alcohol and drugs.  Sure they can easily become idols. And they are fun--at first.  But then the addiction sets in and our bodies craving makes the worship unbearable.

And then it struck me the other day.  It was a Sunday and my pastor was reviewing his past sermons closing out our study of 1 Corinthians.  And one thing sucked the air out of me.  He asked, "What is the one thing you seem to think about first thing in the morning or last thing at night?"

My answer, plain and simple:  The Pain.

Its not that I dwell on it, nurturing loving thoughts of it.  On the contrary, its usually not nice loving thoughts EVER about The Pain.  Yet, I do think about it first thing in the morning.

You see my fibromyalgia causes muscle and nerve pain most of the time.  I take some meds at night that keep the spasms away so I can sleep.  But as soon as 7:00 am hits, no matter how tired I may still be, The Pain forces me to get up and start moving.  If I don't, I hurt.  If I get up I can take ibuprofen to removes its sting.

And at night it is the same.  Too much pain to sit up any longer, my bed beckons me to come and relax on it.  I toss and turn and wait to fall asleep, trying to appease The Pain for a few hours of peace.

I always measure my response to requests to serve at church through The Pain filter.  Do I think this will cause me stress and thus pain?  And if so, is it worth that suffering?  And how long will it take me to recover from said ministry?  Do I have that time to be "lazy"?

Can you see why I was wondering if The Pain was my idol?

I decided to ask my husband if he thought chronic pain or illness could be an idol?  And in his usual, straight forward, engineering way (which I love about him), he said, "Are you nuts?" (Well, not exactly those words, but definitely the idea.) Even when I explained my thinking he didn't get my point of view.  But that's okay, I love him still.

I knew immediately who would understand my thinking.  Jodi.  Sweet Jodi is a kindred spirit.  We met through emails as I prayed and tried to encourage her in her calling a half a world away.  Jodi was a missionary and I had joined our mission's board.  We emailed back and forth and we found a mutual ability to think in the same "nutty" ways.

And she did understand!  (I knew she would.)  She agreed that yes, idols could be bad things as much as good things.

All this to say, well, nothing in particular.  Just was wondering if chronic pain or illness could be a form of a spiritual idol.  What do you think?

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