Renewing Gratitude: Health

This past week our seven-month old baby had her first experience with the common cold. I suppose it was inevitable she would get sick following two days of sitting in bustling airport terminals and breathing recycled airplane air. And, of course, once little Emily caught the bug, it was only a matter of time before she passed it on to us. Still, whatever suffering we endured personally on account of our sore throats and congested noses was nothing compared with the suffering we endured empathetically every time we heard that coarse little cough erupt from our baby’s tiny frame.

Over the years I have cultivated the habit of giving thanks for my health whenever I get sick. It may seem ironic to give thanks for health in the midst of one’s sickness, but the truth of the matter is that we never appreciate health so much as when it eludes us. On second thought, as a new parent I would say that we never appreciate health so much as when it eludes our loved ones. When my little girl is sick and I am helpless to alleviate her suffering, there is nothing I want more than for her to be healthy again. When she recovers, there is no greater relief.

Now, just to keep things in perspective, I am talking about a cold here. As someone who has generally been blessed with good health for myself and my family, I cannot even imagine the anguish endured by a mother whose child is infected with Zika or by someone living with a chronic illness like Parkinson’s. Nor can I fathom the relief and gratitude of the parent whose child has recovered from a life-threatening illness or accident. Based on my own limited encounters with suffering and illness, I can only imagine that gratitude to be tremendous.

We gain new appreciation for Jesus’ healing miracles when we reflect on them with our own health and illness in mind. Healings (of the blind, the lame, the dead) were one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry, a sign that the reign of God had drawn near. Consider Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool of Beth-zatha (Jn 5:1-9). This man had been ill for 38 years and harbored little hope for regaining the use of his legs. Imagine the surge of gratitude and relief he must have felt when, for the first time in almost four decades, he stood up on his own power. One has to think that his devotion to Jesus was intense after this event. Indeed, this seems always to be the point of Jesus’ healing miracles. The healing is an invitation to deeper relationship with the God who heals. Jesus heals the body, not for its own sake, but for the sake of healing the soul.

As Christians, we strive to imitate Jesus in bringing others closer to God, to share with others the gift of love that we ourselves received. Obviously we are limited insofar as none of us can make the lame walk or raise the dead with a simple touch or word as Jesus did. Still, each of us does possess the power to heal in some way, however small. That power also entails responsibility. It is good that occasional illnesses prompt me to thank God for my health. It would be even better if my gratitude prompted me to work for the healing of others so that they too might share this sense of joy and gratitude to God.

There is no shortage of opportunities for healing in our world: Every 60 seconds a child dies from malaria. 36.9 million people around the world are currently living with HIV/AIDS, half of whom do not know they are infected. 14.8 million of our fellow Americans suffer from depression. The sickness present in the world can seem overwhelming when we quantify it in large numbers like these, but it is important not to underestimate the impact one healing touch can have. Every epidemic is overcome by healing one person at a time.

Although none of us can heal the whole world ourselves, each of us can do something to bring healing to another person: We can bring soup to a sick friend. We can care for an aging parent. We can get trained in CPR so that we are ready to help a fellow human being in a moment of emergency. We can vote for policies and representatives that will make quality health care available to everyone who needs it. We can click here to donate $10 for a net that will protect a family from malaria-carrying mosquitos.

We all know the feeling of gratitude when a sickness finally lifts. Unfortunately, too few of us know the joy of letting God’s healing power work through us. It is good to be one of the grateful healed. It is even better to be a grateful healer.