As I have shared before via my blog, I have friends and colleagues who have counselled me to share less about my health in public. They have suggested that this is all private stuff and I am making myself too vulnerable etc.
I think they are wrong.
I think this partly because I do not subscribe to the view that Ministers should keep some kind of ‘professional distance’ from the realities of life or guard ourselves from human encounter or the embrace of normal living reality or the admission of human frailty or weakness. I cannot square that view with the honesty of (for example) the Apostle Paul or the outpourings of the Psalmists.
But more than that, I have been touched by the number of people who, on reading my blog or hearing me speak regarding my health challenges, have got in touch with me (many of them strangers) to share their experience, seek a listening ear or express their appreciation of how helpful they have found my sharing.
So, if you do not like my openness and honesty, stop reading now!
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I had been unwell for almost two years and unable to sustain full-time ministry. My energy levels were very low, my cognitive functions were compromised, my muscles were stiff, my balance not great and the other ‘unseen’ symptoms were irritating, limiting and debilitating.
And then (quite suddenly and without warning or apparent reason) things began to improve. In due course, I was called to St Cuthbert’s as Minister and things continued to improve. My health was better than I expected it to become, I was able to function pretty much fully in Ministry, and – aside from the occasional dip or blip – I was able to work well and fulfil my Ministerial and pastoral responsibilities.
But almost two years ago there was a marked dip in my health levels; energy drained, symptoms were exacerbated, mental and physical abilities were compromised. None of this would be outwardly evident to most onlookers. But the difference has been very obvious to me and those closest to me.
With the exception of the occasional week or two, I have not been able to sustain reasonable health or full ministerial functions since January 2013. More recently I have been put on restricted hours and duties by my doctor. And more recently still other medical issues have arisen which are being investigated and which may or may not be somehow related to MS.
And so I am waiting... waiting to find out what is going on medically, waiting for tests and investigations, waiting to engage in further consultations regarding my future ministry and also waiting in hope (at least a little!) that I may yet regain improved health.
But I am also wondering... wondering if I may have to accept that these health limitations are here to stay, wondering if some big decisions may lie ahead, wondering if there are other things going on in terms of my health and wondering what is best for me, for my family, for St Cuthbert’s....
And, if I am to be honest (and you would not expect anything less!) then I am also worrying a little. What next? What are the implications and consequences of this current situation? How will I know what are the right decisions to take?
Yet, in the midst of all that I do still hear God say ‘Do not be afraid’... and I can lay aside the worries and find something of his peace. ‘The peace that passes all understanding’? Hmmm... I always read that as ‘the peace that makes no sense of circumstances’!
And I guess that’s what it is. My circumstances might seem to rob me of peace, but somehow my faith in God sustains me in an ongoing peace.
If that sounds a bit shallow and trite – a pious platitude – then all I can say is that it is genuinely my experience – as real as is my experience of wondering and worrying.
And if that sounds contradictory, then so be it. It is my reality at the moment!
And somehow faith remains, hope is sustained and peace enfolds me while I wait... and wonder... and worry...