How do you answer that question? It's been a very tough week and there you are sipping a cuppa after the service, and someone asks cheerily 'How are you?' What do you say?
Emma and I have had experience of chronic illness of one kind or another for many years now. I confess that when people ask about it we don't really know what to say. I know other friends who have degenerative illnesses. And every week the questions come at church 'How are you? Any progress?' And they answer 'Yes indeed - the illness has progressed... and barring divine intervention it will continue to progress.' The "comforter" frowns and asks 'So the doctors haven't helped?' And of course the doctors have helped... as much as they can. But...
- ...'Oh, because I read in 'Chintz!' magazine about a woman who recovered after eating a steady diet of Goji berries and Quinoa - perhaps you could try that.'
- 'Give that a go and let me know next week.'
- 'Look forward to it!'
Don't get me wrong, I know the trouble from the other end. In our home group we have a woman who's struggled with insomnia for 50 years. Fifty years! But when she reveals this, what is our response?
"Have you tried a hot bath with a drop of lavender?"
"Long walks in the sea air."
"Listen to the shipping forecast"
"A drop of badger blood on the pillow..."
She shows extraordinary patience, listening to our home-spun wisdom for a good quarter of an hour. Eventually she says, "I have struggled with this for 50 years you know".
Our trouble is we don't know what we can offer unless it's a quick fix. So when we run out of fixes all we can think to do is offer prayer. Which is good I suppose. But even then - what's our goal? The fix! And how are we treating the other person? What are our interactions all about? Solving problems?
Here are some questions for us:
Can we handle sickness that doesn't yield to the quick fix?
Can we face the struggles that aren't solved by the tried and trusted common sense we take pride in?
Can we enter into the struggles of others and not make 'the fix' into the goal?
Can we journey with others in their mess and allow the Spirit to encourage us both in the Christ who is known best in the storm?
And, on the other end of things, when people ask us about our long-term stuggles, what can we say?
I've recently taken to one particular line that I picked up in a Tim Keller sermon, I'd love to hear any you have. His was this:
- How are you?
- Nothing a resurrection won't fix!