In general, I am a healthy person. I have not been afflicted with allergies or chronic pain, migraines or infertility, A.L.S or M.S. or any other unhappy alphabet of disease. I have not yet been diagnosed with the bad heart that killed my father, the Parkinson’s that took my mother, or the cancers they both beat earlier in their retirement. I am lucky. I am blessed. I take my fortuitous health for granted.
But now I have a cold, and woeful am I. It is the kind of bad cold that is almost the flu, but not quite. I have no fever, but I have chills and aches, a sore throat and a deep cough, a messy nose and burning eyes. I am still tired after ten hours of sleep. I am home from work, which is a sign of true illness, because I like my job. And I catch myself thinking, “Why, God?”
This is the eternal question prompted by pain. Why does disease attack our mortal flesh? Why must everyone suffer? We always ask “why” about the bad things that happen to us. We don’t ask about the good things. Why do I deserve the many privileges of my life? Do I care about the reason? No, I just accept at face value every blessing I enjoy. I want reasons that I can understand only for the tragedies that affect my life, large and small, deaths and accidents, personal failures and the common cold. Honestly, God, what is the point?
But God is not talking. The mysteries of life’s difficulties endure. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” God says in the Book of the prophet Isaiah, “nor are your ways my ways.” When Job questions God’s reasons for his run of tragedies, God pretty much tells him off for several uncomfortable chapters, asking: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?”
Job gets the message. We humans can never know the mind of God. “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know,” Job responds. He ends his lame attempt to get an explanation from the Lord by saying he will “repent in dust and ashes”—as will we all, we questioners and complainers, we who continue not to get it.
Yet, as uncomfortable as I am, surrounded by used tissues and a humidifier and a half-bottle of some terrible-tasting orange cold meds that my husband had me drink, I see the sliver of meaning. In spite of my nasal grumpiness, I get it. A cold is a tiny example of the plagues and disasters that slam into all of our lives, often when we least expect them.
God’s blessings abound even in dark times. The tea steeping in the teapot is a blessing. The sun streaming through the window in protest of winter is a blessing. The empty, quiet house is a blessing. The stillness of my body as it goes about the miracle of healing is itself a blessing. The fact that I have a job that provides sick days is a blessing. There are far worse trials and tragedies than this day.
This day makes me appreciate my normal state of all-right-ness, like a bad back makes you appreciate how all your bones and muscles are connected, or a drought makes you appreciate a downpour, or the absence of a loved one makes you appreciate the people close to you.
Still, I long for healthier days, as my nose is rubbed raw and tender from blowing it. I trust that I will feel well again, as I cough up globs of illness. And when I persist in wondering “why,” I remind myself that Jesus knows all about this kind of contemplation. At least I know that, in sickness and in health, I am in good company.