In Sickness and In Faith

I think about food a lot, probably more than most people. I read the ingredients list on every item of food I buy, even packets of sweets and chewing gum. I am the person who phones the host of a dinner party in advance to ask what’s in the dishes they’re preparing, the one who asks for the croutons to be left out of the salad at a restaurant, the one who more often than not says “no” to plates of delicious cakes and biscuits and chocolates passed around over coffee, the one who can’t bite her daughter’s macaroni to see if it’s cooked, and who has to use separate chopping boards when preparing food for my family and myself. Sound like a fussy eater? I am, but my food choices are conditioned by two chronic conditions: diabetes and coeliac disease.[1]

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) since I was 16 years old and I’m 31 now, but while I’ve probably had coeliac disease my entire life, I only became aware of it through a routine pregnancy blood test in October. I was already accustomed to avoiding certain foods, but this latest news came as a complete shock. I now have to cut out all wheat based products (bread, pasta, noodles, beer, to name but a few) and all products containing even a hint of wheat or other gluten-containing substances. In addition to grieving the loss of some of life’s simplest pleasures (fresh baked bread to name but one), possibly the hardest part of this is not being able to break bread with my family at home and my family the church.

Perhaps, like me, some of us wonder how to reconcile faith with incurable sickness. Contemplation of these conditions and their consequences has opened my eyes to new spiritual things. On a good day I am not conscious in my body of either illness and must therefore, bizarrely, effectively live by faith in the diseases, trusting that although I don’t feel sick, sickness is at work in my body and I must eat and live accordingly.

What part does sickness play in a life of faith in Jesus Christ? As I read the Bible I come across all sorts of people afflicted with all sorts of sicknesses, some physical, some social, some psychological, all with spiritual implications. Some suffered for a lifetime, others were miraculously healed. As a Christian, I live within the paradox that God is a healer who didn’t cure his own pain. Jesus didn’t build a house for himself when he had nowhere to stay, he didn’t turn stones into bread when he was hungry, nor did he summon angels to take him down from the cross when he was dying. To what end? The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered (5:8). As man, Jesus—like the rest of us—knows what it is to suffer. He also knows, therefore, how to trust in God in good times and in bad, so that we can do the same. It is in God’s nature to heal, but it is also in God’s nature to empathise and to strengthen us to endure. That gives me hope for the future and comfort in the present, in sickness and in health.

Madi Simpson


[1] chronic failure to digest food triggered by hypersensitivity of the small intestine to gluten.

 

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