“Great,” I thought sarcastically. After five days together in a tiny cabin, I’m sure I’ll have it too.
So we packed cold medicine and sure enough, Jennifer was running a low grade fever the morning we left. She took medicine for the symptoms, slept a little more than usual, but tried to enjoy the trip and our time together at the lake. She joined me in long shopping trips and we took walks along the shore together even though she didn’t feel her best. She didn’t complain but rather apologized when her coughing kept her –and me- up at night and said little about how difficult it was to sleep with a stuffy head.
I tried to be sympatric and encouraged her to rest and try to recuperate, but I am not a very good nurse and I struggle with compassion – until I get sick. On the way home my eyes started watering and my throat felt itchy and my achy muscles were thankful for a good night’s sleep in my own bed after a hot soak in my large tub. I was glad I didn’t have to settle for a shower in a strange restroom and nurse my cold while sleeping on an air mattress in a tiny cabin.
My children have always jokingly said that if our family is going to get a cold, it is always better for mom to get sick first otherwise everyone must tough it out and try to continue on with life as usual – until mom gets sick. From that point on I’m a compassionate, helpful, and caring servant to the sick.
It is a sad truth but we all seem to have our own ideas on how the sick should operate until we share their suffering. For most of us it is difficult to truly express compassion for the pain of others until we have also felt their pain. In his book, A Disruptive Faith, A.W. Tozer says, “Some things you will never know until you have suffered….There are some imperfections you never lose until you have suffered. You will never know some truths until you have suffered either in your heart or in your body or both. And some mysteries, you will never understand until you have carried the cross and fallen under it.”
We may not always share the exact hurt, but sharing in the suffering of others is like sharing a cold – our symptoms may not all be exactly the same but we are far more compassionate when weakness, imperfection, or illness has been felt in our body too. Thankfully, my cold was short-lived and only lasted a few days, but it served to remind me how it feels to be sick. So as I look out each day into a world of hurt and suffering people trying to ‘tough it out and continue on with life as usual’, it is my prayer that my heart is filled with compassion and I remember how it feels to be a rescued saint struggling under the load of imperfection who needs to be reminded once more of the glorious good news of the gospel. And I hope my heart never forgets the debilitating illness of sin; I hope I never forget how it feels to be to be sick, dying, and in need of a savior.