Spiritual Sunday: Illness and Suffering

When I realized several weeks ago that my amalgam fillings could be potentially holding back my health progress, I wondered why I didn’t come across this idea sooner. I knew I was being led on this journey toward health. My prayers to Heavenly Father were definitely being answered. Why didn’t He alert me to something that could be hindering my healing? But then I knew without a doubt that this was the way my journey was to go in order to best help me grow as a whole person–not just to improve my health.

I’ve gone through phases where I’ve just been so upset at the rampant diseases in our world. I believe in the World of Wisdom, a health code that my church believes to be revelation from God. I have wondered why it’s written so simplistically–why aren’t there more details–details that for some people would be crucial–on how to eat well? The only conclusion I can come to is that some of us have something to learn from being ill. The Word of Wisdom has certainly been helpful–Latter-day Saints are considered some of the healthiest and longest living people in the world–but it doesn’t protect us from everything, it would seem. Just as we parents ought not to try to protect our children from everything, I believe our Father in Heaven leaves space for us to learn from challenges, too.

When I learned of Weston Price’s discovery of multiple isolated groups of robustly healthy people, I was both grateful for all the wisdom it brought me, but also envious of these groups (who I don’t think even exist anymore because of the ubiquitousness of modern food). I was envious because their genes were pure and untainted by modern food, toxins and lifestyle–something I could never replicate for myself or my children, no matter how hard I tried.

But then I think of the majority of human history. It’s not just modern people who are suffering. Suffering began way long ago. Some lucky groups escaped disease, but disease has been around for a long, long time. As we’ve combated some illnesses with better hygiene, vaccines, and access to more food, we’ve invented new ones with modern lifestyle, and, ironically, with poor diet choices. So odd, that illness can prevail when there is an abundance of “food” just as much as when there is hunger. I think of poor, innocent children the world over, most concentrated in third world countries, starving for want of food. Forget having the perfect diet, they just need food, period. Why do they suffer? Why did God put children in those situations? Why did God put children in families where they would be abused, for that matter? I believe the answer is twofold. Firstly, we all have the freedom of choice. This is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, and He’s not going to take it away to protect us from suffering. Secondly, I believe that God knows what challenges we all need individually, to grow our strongest. For some it is to suffer from hunger and/or illness. For others, it is other things.

I just finished reading The Hunger Games. The protagonist is a teen girl who knows what it is like to go hungry. Some of her competitors don’t. At one point she realizes she would have an advantage over the stronger, well-trained kids, if she could just get rid of their food supply. Because they don’t know “how to be hungry.” Not only did she know how to be hungry, but because of her hunger as a child, she learned to hunt–a skill that gave her a distinct advantage at this point in her life. This is how it is with life–our challenges make us stronger. They help us deal with future challenges, but even more importantly, they teach us humility and compassion for others. And each hardship we face gives us the opportunity to reach out to God, to realize we are not alone. I’ve always felt God’s love the strongest when I’ve been in pain.

If the knowledge I’ve gained through being sick does nothing more than help my child grow up healthy, then I am grateful for my troubles. However, I can say I’ve gained so much more than that. Yes, I’d like to be robustly healthy, but even the robust eventually die. It is life’s lessons that we take into the next life. It is life’s lessons that make life worth living at all.

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