Two years ago I was given a very mixed blessing: I got sick. Oh, I had been sick before: the usual acceptable sorts of things, appendicitis, a couple of ripped-up knees from sports, colds and viruses. This time it was different. The physical cause was not so evident. I had ulcers! I lost some weight, some friends, and a lot of self-confidence. Ulcers, or so it is believed, are caused by psychosomatic factors. Translated, that means that super-normal folks should not have them. You get them and your friends start wondering about you and you start wondering about yourself. You examine your lifestyle, your work, your emotions, your relationships.

You look at a whole lot of things differently and sense that others are looking at you differently: Is he really sick? Is he a hypochondriac? Does he want to be sick? He was always so intense I knew that this would happen! He is unhappy in his state in life! He is simply looking for attention and sympathy! There is something he cannot face! You pick up the reactions and soon you begin to ask yourself the same things. It all gets frightening because you do not know the answers and, deep down, you sense that any or all of those things could be true. We are pretty complex critters! The physical illness is not all that serious, but you get pretty serious. Well, not at first. First you do the normal things. You see doctors, hopeful always that some medicine or treatment will very quickly restore you to normal health.

Then as time drags, and you do not get better, and friends no longer seem concerned (or are perhaps even suspicious) you get angry and impatient: with doctors, with medicines, with friends, with yourself. Then, when that doesn’t help, your strength begins to break and for the first time you are actually sick. Initially the symptoms are all bad: self-pity, anger at friends, impatience with everything. Your old confidence and strength is gone. At this stage you are genuinely ill, though the physical illness has been mostly lost in the new emotional lesions. But things slowly change, Ulcers heal, the scars disappear; first the physical ones, and, later, much more slowly, the emotional ones. You feel strength again and old friends and old circles begin to open up again.

Health returns but it is different. Some of the old self-confidence is gone, replaced by a new sense of vulnerability and relativity that is immensely freeing. You realize more clearly what is gift and what is earned. You know that you, on your own, cannot guarantee your own health, nor your attractiveness and desirability in love and friendship. Stripped naked, weakened, and greatly humbled, you stop fighting, first because you are defeated, but later, when strength and resources return, because you realize that there is no reason to fight. Life, health, love it’s all pure gift! You take less for granted and your old need to perform, to achieve, to dominate, to possess and impress, to win by effort what can only be received as gift, has been dealt a blow. It is painful, but freeing: painful because you realize that there is so little you can do; freeing because you realize that there is so little you have to do.

You begin to beg for conversion (even as you sense how difficult it is) because you would want to transvaluate all your values and prioritize your whole self and life anew. Even so, you know you are still a long ways from home. There is still a lot of turf between you and the promised land. But, like Moses and Abraham, you have been given a “glimpse from afar.”  When one is wandering in a wilderness it is helpful to know in what direction the milk and honey lies. You will still spend most of your life wandering, wondering how to enter the promised land. But with an anonymous poet from the past, you realize that God is finally taking you in hand:

I asked for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy;

I was given poverty, that I might be free…

I asked for power, that I might have praise from men;

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among all men the most richly blessed.

Keep passing the open windows!