I have 3 autoimmune disorders: Fibromyalgia, Celiac Disease, and Immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency. Apparently, I lived with the disorders for many years before receiving correct diagnoses.
I control the Celiac disease by avoiding gluten. That’s pretty easy. But the other two disorders are more tricky.
Immunoglobulin A protects your mucus membranes – eyes, nose, mouth, respiratory system, and GI tract. But I don’t have enough of it for adequate protection. This means I get sick more often, more easily, and more severely than the average healthy person.
Fibromyalgia is a nuisance when you’re a pastor with two young kids, trying to re-start a church, planning for a large summer day camp ministry [after losing our very accomplished day camp director three weeks ago], and managing 5 churches and a funeral home sharing one aging facility.
But (usually), it’s no more than a “nuisance.” I live each day with varying degrees of chronic pain, muscle fatigue, drowsiness, and mental ‘fog.’ But I’ve had about 10 years to adjust. So most days are fine…until I get a “flareup.”
Fibromyalgia flareups differ with each person, but mine tend share the same symptoms of a severe cold, minus the fever: extreme muscle fatigue, severe mental fog, body aches, and lethargy.
When I get a flareup, I’m dead to the world. Forget whatever I planned or committed to do. It’s not happening.
Like most people with fibromyalgia, some of my flareups are predictable…happening after overdoing life. Some flareups come out of nowhere.
I woke up with a flareup Friday morning. It was bad. Really bad. It didn’t fully go away until Sunday morning. And it was predictable. All week I’d stayed up late working on my computer, or in bed working on my phone. I spent a few days working on renovation projects in a hot gym. I spent a lot of time in the heat working on the lawn, because I’m vain about how my lawn looks. Thursday morning, I suddenly resumed exercise after months of ‘not having time to exercise.’ Thursday afternoon, I drove to a conference an hour away. My friend had generously given me a free ticket. But on the way back, I probably had two-days-worth of calories in my fast food meal.
I ABSOLUTELY believe God can miraculously heal me of my illnesses. But I don’t think I want healing, at least not now. My bodily frailties are God’s gift to me until I learn an important Biblical concept… Sabbath.
Even though my thoughts spur me on to more and more work, my auto-immune disorders force me to keep Sabbath. If I were as healthy as my 31 year old body appeared from the outside, I could just keep working, and working, and working. Folks, that’s sinful.
My fibromyalgia flareups become the ‘Sabbaths’ I sinfully refuse to take. How unfortunate for my children, my wife, and myself that these Sabbaths do not help anyone but my physical body. My body finds rest, but my soul and my relationships do not.
My achy body, mental fog, and fatigue make concentration difficult. It’s nearly impossible to read my Bible or pray. I certainly can’t hold a quality conversations with my wife or play with my children. “Don’t bother daddy because he’s sick” is a common phrase during flareups.
God has a better way.
“Sabbath” is a recurring theme throughout the Christian Bible. God’s people (Jewish or Christian) have a long history of misunderstanding, ignoring, and dishonoring Sabbath. Throughout much of Scripture, “Sabbath” literally referred to the seventh day of the week. And this seventh day of the week was always supposed to be a day of rest. “Sabbath” and “Rest” are inextricably connected in the Bible. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, however, “rest” also becomes a place [hint: it’s also a Person ;)].
In the third chapter of Hebrews, the writer sets up a metaphor between the “Promised Land” and the concept of “Rest.” Chapter 4 starts connecting the dots:
“Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” Hebrews 4:1
“Now we who have believed enter that rest” Hebrews 4:3a
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.” Hebrews 4:9-10
My condition punishes my body every time I over work. It’s a physical reminder that Jesus has invited me to “rest from my works.”
Now, I’ve grown up in Protestant churches and received formal Biblical training at Protestant schools. I understand the doctrine that became a common catchphrase of Protestant Christianity… “Salvation by faith, not by works.”
I understand my works don’t save me (or do I?).
Yes, Jesus calls me to “rest” from a “salvation by works” mentality. But Jesus also calls me to rest from a “I can save it by my works” mentality. That mentality pushes me to over work:
I can save the church’s budget by my working harder in all things finance-related.
I can save our church’s image in the community by keeping a well-manicured Parsonage lawn.
I can save our summer day camp after losing our director.
I can save my family’s finances by bringing in more church members who give.
I can save my family’s finances by being a cheapskate.
I can save myself from leadership mistakes by attending one more church conference.
I can save refugees in the community who need help by personally furnishing their empty apartments.
I can save everything and everyone…until I can’t even get of bed.
Saving makes me sick.
Christ, and Christ alone, can save. Christ saves churches, church budgets, ministries, families, and people. So, the smart pastor would only “do the work he sees the Father doing.”
Christ, therefore, calls me to rest from my works. My work is heavy, burdensome, and leads to unnecessary illness. Christ’s work “is easy and his burden light.”
What will it look like to only do the work Christ would have me do? I’m not entirely sure. But here’s a few guesses:
- More prayer…prayer for help from others, prayer for wisdom on what work to do, prayer to know what I should leave undone, etc.
- More Bible reading – I’m not the first God-follower to faces similar situations. I should see how God advised them and how they responded.
- Working on tasks because God wants them completed, not because I (or others) want them completed. If I’m about to begin a task motivated out of fear, stress, peer-pressure, etc., I should pause and pray for direction.
God taught me this with two important lessons this week:
- Yet, another, flareup caused by over work and
- an unexpected $500 donation
While attending that conference an hour away from home on Friday, I saw a friend. We started talking about our summer day camp. Then, she suddenly surprised me with a $500 check for the church. That evening, and the next day as I rested in bed, God graciously reminded me of that check. God has the power to provide for our EVERY need. My hard work leads to exhaustion. Jesus’ work often leads me away from the crowds, into solitary places where I am refreshed and rested in God’s presence. The only work I need ever do is to follow Jesus.
Only Jesus has the power to save. Only Jesus can give me rest.