There are two camps when illness strikes. There is the logical camp that rests, takes medications, and acknowledges that while all humans get ill, most get well again. That camp will indeed be well in a few days. Then there is the second camp. They are the arrogant people who take illness as an affront to all efforts to manage the universe and assume that not only can they deny illness any foothold but that they can function on a normal schedule while ill. I confess to being the motivational speaker for the second camp.
Bronchitis, however, taught me a lesson in humility last week. Convinced I could power through, I packed lunches and got the girls off to school, and then I crashed. It seems that willpower does not trump bacterial infection. While bemoaning my body’s insistent demand for rest and sleep, I realized why I camp out with the overachievers who believe illness is to be overcome rather than healed.
For me, being sick meant I had to say “no.” But I am a “yes” person. Not a doormat, but a tackler of challenges. Generally, my attitude is one of assured confidence that I can get it done. My friend calls me driven. And she is right. I am driven to complete tasks in a timely manner with attention to detail. If I take on the task, I will do it. And that is why I am so petulant and belligerent when illness prevents me from doing what I promised.
When I am sick, I have to say, “no” to a myriad of daily tasks. I have to cancel appointments and miss deadlines. I have to accept that what I had hoped to accomplish just won’t get done today. And I have this overwhelming sense of letting people down. I feel if people are counting on me, then I have to follow through. This fear of disappointing people by saying, “no” drives my desire to power through when I am sick.
Ironically, my fear of disappointing people is in direct opposition to my theology of grace. If my child is sick, I encourage rest. I take her to the doctor. I rock her if she wants to be held. I am gracious with her. If my friend is sick, I encourage her to put a DVD in for the kids and just take the time to get well. And yet when I am sick, I deny myself the grace that I offer others. How arrogant of me to assume I am above human illness. And how sad that I cannot accept the grace that I offer freely.
Being sick is a form of saying, “no” to other people but it is also a form of saying, “yes” to you. Yes, I need to sleep. Yes, I need to beg off driving carpool. Yes, I need the gracious gift of taking care of me.
I am grateful to be recovering from my illness and for the reminder to offer grace to myself, as freely as I offer it to others.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.