Writings by Cole Huffman

Confessions of a Flu Fighter

I’m writing these words at the end of a week dominated by flu. A few of our kids developed symptoms first then shared with me. I preached last Sunday morning (March 18) feeling miserable but functional enough. It wasn’t equivalent to Michael Jordan’s heroics in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals (“The Flu Game”). But when you’re usually healthy, sickness is disorienting as well as disabling. It wasn’t just that I didn’t feel like myself but that I felt strangely un-self. 

I think I believe that every experience in life is instructive. And so I pause now to consider what I’ve learned this week hosting that most unwelcome houseguest within my members, Influenza. Perhaps it’s not so much that I’ve “learned” anything new or even been reminded of this or that, as if I’d come to believe I couldn’t succumb to sickness. The flu caught me but not by surprise. So then it is probably better to say spending this past week sick at home has reinforced and re-sensitized me to some things I already knew about myself.

Not that I have a lot of experience with sickness. Lynn has even less. We’re grateful for our health and work to take care of it. I have a missionary friend from seminary days who once told me, mostly tongue-in-cheek, that God seems to give His servants either money problems or health problems, and if He really loves you He gives you both! I take the flu as a matter of course in a fallen world. I don’t know that a threat to my health might not be coming later that will make me wistful for “just the flu” of this past week.

The flu is challenging and all I’ve done for a week is lie around groaning in and out of fever. But I knew it would run its course and lift. I saw my doctor and got on Tamiflu about three days in and symptoms began alleviating although weakness has lingered. But I also pondered: What if I had to live in my symptoms for a month, a year, a lifetime? It’s one thing knowing you’ll be down and out for a week—you get to watch movies and eat popsicles and get ahead in your reading and take naps and never put on pants. But what if illness became part of regular life for me?

I watch others navigate lives chronically beset by illnesses both known and mysterious. Many of these folks are marvels of endurance and grace and energy. It’s easier for me to sympathize for them than empathize with them though because empathy requires shared suffering, or as Joe Aldrich memorably described it, “becoming a naturalized citizen of another’s world.” And so one advantage of spending a week with the flu is I grow at least a little in empathy for my friends who suffer ailments or the restrictions thereof more constantly than me.

I’m a runner. I can go run multiple miles whenever I want to in any kind of weather. But I couldn’t even walk a mile in our neighborhood this last week on a beautiful spring afternoon without feeling spent. I know because I tried it, wrongly concluding it would make me feel better. That’s one way I knew I was really sick. But this is one week of limited lung capacity for me. This time next week I’ll be running my route, likely not even thinking of this week that’s been. That’s almost like having health to burn. 

Because I don’t have obvious physical restrictions I have a tendency to run past or overlook the weak and the frail instead of waiting for them or pursuing them. Because of my health I have a tendency to look down on the unhealthy. I hate to confess this but it’s true. The experience of being weakened this week has re-sensitized me to my easygoing dismissiveness in these ways and triggered repentance. 
So it was good for me to be afflicted this week, yes (Ps. 119:71). It made me more sentient of my mortality and depravity both, and that invariably drives me to Jesus. In fact, as I think about it now my bout of influenza has prepared me for Easter in a way no meditation I voluntarily engaged probably could, in that Easter is about the dead coming back to life. In the midst of the flu one says he feels so bad he wishes he could die. I said so a couple of times last week. But I didn’t really want to die. (And now that I’m on the mend I’m glad I didn’t!) 

“I wish I could die” is really wanting relief from the pain and frustration of the illness. The more difficult the illness the more one not only desires his wellness but enjoys it when it returns. Same with the sickness in our souls called sin. It is death to us, death in us. But we don’t really want to die from it. Easter is the only way to ultimate wellness. Tamiflu was good for my body but Easter is good for my person. It is life no sickness can infect or consume, health no death can rob from me, healing that never ends, never fails.

Thinking of this, I feel so good now I hope there is one more popsicle left in the freezer for me.
Posted by Cole Huffman at 6:12 PM
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