The gift of . . . stomach flu
I woke up a little before four in the morning—nauseated. “Maybe I’m just too tired,” I thought, and rolled over and tried to get back to sleep. That bolt of shining optimism was sadly disconnected from reality. The initial rumblings of my unhappy stomach were preparation for the full-force of a twenty-four-hour bug that had already claimed several victims in our family.
I’d do quite a bit to avoid exposure to stomach flu. Sure, my immune system could stand up to the contagion, but often, exposure equals illness. When the sickness strikes in our own home, though, there’s not a whole lot we can do. I assiduously avoid contact (might even be called unfeeling at times) and I wash my hands frequently—and try to not use the family towel to dry. But it seems as though some bugs are set to seek and destroy.
This one leveled me. Literally. Prone. Aside from frequent trips to the bathroom, I was flat on my back in bed. It’s been a long time since I spent a day in bed, since I did nothing but close my eyes and hold on, waiting for sickness to pass.
I drifted in and out of consciousness, sleeping, waking, and half-dreaming through both. Ephemeral thoughts flitted through my mind—gauzy, unformed images and ideas and words, not disciplined by ordinary requirements to “get things done.”
Really, there wasn’t much I could do. I listened to a sermon, but fell asleep somewhere before it concluded. I didn’t want to read or listen to music or wrestle through problems and questions of life. In fact, I didn’t want to do anything but lie very still and try to stay as warm and comfortable as I possible. I kept an old heating pad, turned on high, across my stomach, under my back, or at my feet. Melissa asked if I wanted to see the poplar trees blowing in the wind out beyond the barn. No, I preferred to keep my eyes shut most of the time, even when I was awake.
the view from my sick room window
And all the while, I waded in and out of the shallows of thought. My mind was like an overstretched rubber band that’s been relaxed. The tension of a thousand concerns, the stress of daily burdens that weigh heavily on my soul, was gone. Thoughts were limp, lacking the edge of intelligence—even the sharpness of care—that characterizes typical life.
Through the mist, I heard a beloved old refrain:
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Rest. Yes, that was what I was looking for. Nothing more. Stillness. Quietness. Worrisome ogres fled before the onslaught of the flu. Dictatorial to-do lists couldn’t lift their heads above waves of nausea.
* * * * *
I woke this morning feeling like a new man. Weak, but alive. And with the return of health came the sharpness of all my concerns.
Why does it take something as dramatic as stomach flu to reorient my priorities? Why not live in Jesus' rest all the time?
I’m not looking for a foggy escape from reality or a dullness that can’t see danger before it’s too late. I’m not talking about the bliss of ignorance or about unfounded optimism. I need the rest that’s built on truth and greater Truth, the rest that looks trouble squarely in the eye, and sees, just beyond that tyrant, the Master whose serene control is working everything for good.
Even stomach flu. And even health.
Amy Carmichael, herself no stranger to trouble, wrote:
Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matters beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill :
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it;
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?
Yesterday’s bout of flu was a gift. Not because I like the flu any better for having experienced it, but because it shook the world of ordinary things and showed me my impotence. Better still, it reminds me of the omnipotence of the One who calls me to His rest amid the tossing billows—from truth to greater Truth.
© February 2012 by Robert G. Robbins