“Are ye able?” asks the old Methodist hymn of consecration. My answer, when it comes to engaging with the world at this point in my recovery from cancer is “No, I’m not entirely able — not quite yet, not like before.” Recently I’ve begun to step out a bit, choosing to attend a few select events: a house concert of baroque music, a small dinner party given in my honor, a couple of hours spent as the fire department chaplain at a town celebration. I’m amazed at just how much these low-key events take out of me. It’s as if I have to go home and sleep for three hours to recover from every one hour I spend in the real world!
It’s all about managing expectations, I guess — others’ expectations, and my own. You have to love people for their enthusiasm when they see you getting better. In their eagerness however, they almost always assume that I feel much better than I really do. I’ll tell them that “This is the only time in my life that I actually look better than I really am!” The line makes them laugh and sometimes they get the message that I’m far from 100% these days.
But often people don’t seem to want to believe that I’m not quite my old self. They’ll ask me if I’ll be showing up here, or when I’ll be getting back to this or that, or whether I’ll be pursuing one energetic course of action or another. The irony is that people who love me seem so happy to see me looking healthier that they assume I’m actually far better than I can possibly be at this point. Inside, I’m feeling weaker and more fragile than I’ve ever been since I was very young.
I don’t like admitting how feeble I feel, not even to myself, let alone to others. I’m not used to living inside this enigma of inability. I’m no malingerer, and I don’t like people thinking that I’m some ‘poor thing.’ Indeed, I want nothing more than to be as well as the folks who care about me seem to think I am. I want to be that strong and feel that healthy, but I just can’t! I’m not all that able right now, and I’ve got to admit it!
And there’s another complication: it’s the fact that for many of my dear friends, I am also their pastor. They’ve always had the right to assume I’d care for them as a pastor, but just now it feels like an impossible task. I don’t have the energy to be who I’m called to be, or, at least, who I’ve willingly, happily and easily been for folks in the past. How do I come to terms with this vexing weakness, and how do I help others deal with my frail self, as well?
St. Paul, possessing a bravado that I’m afraid I sorely lack, solved his own problem with weakness by deciding to brag about it. “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” he wrote, “so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9b) I’m sorry, but I don’t feel very much like boasting about how feeble I feel right now, my full faith in the power of Christ, notwithstanding!
But there is something I am drawn to consider in the midst of all my confusion and frustration. It’s the assurance Paul received from God in prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord promised him, “for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9a) Could it be that this pervasive weakness that I feel is in fact an invitation to rest, simply to rest in the powerful grace of God?
Are ye able, Edward — able to accept the downtime you need and not feel insufficient, useless or guilty? Are you able to repose in grace and accept with confidence the long, slow process of healing; to let that be enough, for yourself and for others, for now?