I love each of my children so much that the thought of losing any one of them can bring on a physical reaction. Last night, a story of a little boy dying in a car accident made the news, and my mind, just for a moment, allowed that child to become my child. Just for a moment, it was Jacob who died in that car accident. The thought was so terrible that my breathing started coming in gulps, and I began to gag. I tried to pull away from the words and images, but my mind paid no heed. It went to that “what if” place that, on most days, I am able to avoid visiting. As I tried to screech my thoughts to a halt, my brain played out the scene, and I was dragged along, a reluctant viewer.
Our children have had a very healthy time of it so far. In my eleven years of parenting, I’ve picked up prescription medicine for one of the kids a total of just three times. They’ve missed maybe ten days of school, combined, since our oldest, Jacob, started pre-school, eight years ago. We’ve had two broken bones so far, and three stitches. I don’t know if it’s because they’re coordinated or aren’t big risk-takers, but I doubt that we’ve gone through more than a couple boxes of Band-Aids in the past decade, not counting the ones Jamie wears just because she likes the way they look on her fingers. We are blessed with health, I would say, if the word “blessed” didn’t stick in my throat.
I don’t know why my children are so healthy. While I can feel blessed, I’m hesitant to say we’re blessed, because it seems to imply that a parent with a seriously ill child isn’t so blessed. If God is giving my children their health, what does that say about all the other children who have chronic diseases or get injured — or killed — in accidents?
God created a physical world for us, with physical limitations. Bones can break, organs can fail, cancer cells can divide. Hearts can stop. And while miracles do happen, it seems that more often, the course of an illness or injury is subject to the laws of nature and the limitations of medical science.
My own faith hovers in that middle ground between nature’s roll of the dice and “everything happens for a reason.” The reason so many children are starving, after all, has nothing to do with God’s will for them and everything to do with an unequal distribution of wealth in the world.
Perhaps good health itself is not the blessing. Perhaps the blessing of good health is that it affords us the time and energy to reach out to others.
A good friend has a daughter with Type 1 diabetes. My friend has to spend hours each week managing her daughter’s care. She often gets up in the middle of the night to check her daughter’s sugar levels. She gives her daughter insulin injections at least four times a day. She is constantly aware of exactly when her daughter needs to eat and exercise, so her sugar levels don’t spike too high or dip too low.
None of my children are diabetic, and because of this, I have many hours each week “free” that my friend does not have. It is not enough simply be thankful for my healthy kids and move on. It’s not enough to label them blessed.
If, as Jesus told the parents of the blind man, their son’s blindness was not God’s punishment for his sins or their sins, but rather a way to display the work of God in his life, so too, must parents of healthy children realize their children’s health is a way to display the work of God. With less to worry about in our own families, we are called to take that saved time and energy to concern ourselves with those who need us.
Statistics show that the lower an income a family has, the bigger percentage of that income they typically give to charity. So while the very wealthy often give the biggest donations in terms of actual amounts of money, it is the middle class and the poor who give the larger slice of their own family dollars.
I have seen the same to often be true in terms of families struggling with an illness. My friend with the diabetic daughter, for example, will be the first to make a casserole or pot of soup for a household with a new baby or a sick family member.
It is often the doing without — whether it’s money or health — that helps us look with empathy toward others also doing without.
So maybe it is when our own road is easiest— when it’s difficult to imagine the hardships that some families must go through— that we most need prayer. During these smooth-sailing times, maybe we need to go to God, not to simply give thanks for our blessings, but to ask, “What now? What would you like me to do?”
The answer we receive will be the real blessing.