By Larry Jones
I will never look at people who find a way to serve God in their suffering the same way again.
You can learn a lot from a tick. Three years ago I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a bacterial infection passed on by deer ticks. I failed to detect the bull’s-eye rash from the bite, but I knew something was wrong when it became difficult to climb stairs and get in and out of my car.
After my diagnosis I searched the Internet and learned some victims of Lyme suffer serious long-term neurological and even psychological damage. I read about a preacher who was arrested by the police for drunk driving and fired by his church, only to discover later he was suffering from Lyme, not intoxication.
My Lowest Moment
My lowest moment came in a shopping mall when I dropped some money and wasn’t able to bend my knees and pick it up. As I shuffled toward an exit, resentment welled up inside of me when I saw an elderly man reach down to pick up some trash. I imagined he was showing off on purpose to torment me in my pain.
The good news is, I survived. Months of antibiotics and the passing of time brought me to a complete recovery—although my family claims the jury is still out on psychological impairment! But even though the disease is history, its memory is not. The dangerous tick that affected my health also taught me some valuable life lessons.
With one infectious bite, the tiny insect put me in a place where I was allowed to suffer for my own good. As my movements grew slower and the scope of my life smaller, I was forced to pay attention to some of God’s magnificently simple blessings.
Thankful for Small Things
He taught me to be thankful for life’s little blessings. As my disease progressed, the pain in my joints forced me to adapt. To climb into my car I clung to the door and roof while slowly lowering myself into the driver’s seat. Then I gingerly lifted my legs into the car, one at a time. I still remember the day my pain subsided enough for me to lift my legs by themselves, and now, when I slide effortlessly into my car seat, I sometimes stop to thank God.
It’s easy to overlook the free things in life. I have noticed small children are much better than adults at keeping these blessings in perspective. Children pray for the birds, the sky, and the neighbor’s cat. Adults pray for houses, cars, and promotions at work. Granted it is best to have a roof over our heads, but is a car or a better job ultimately more vital to our survival than a bird or the sky? I guess it depends on whether we mind living in a world overrun with rodents and insects, or one without an atmosphere. As far as the neighbor’s cat is concerned, I’ll let you make that determination.
Life’s free gifts become more important when we lose them. Perhaps this is why people facing trials are sometimes the most thankful of all. They have learned to appreciate everything because they have had to let go of so much.
Thankful for People
He taught me to be thankful for the people around me. I rarely get sick, so my illness put me in a place I wasn’t prepared to handle. There were times I was worried about the future, and moments when my frustrations overwhelmed me. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what was wrong, or if I could be cured. And as I struggled, my wife, children, church family, and neighbors sustained me.
Something happens to us when we are forced to depend on others. It is no longer possible to live with our illusions of self-sufficiency or our delusions of indispensability. A good dose of humility opens our hearts and causes us to see God’s grace poured out in the lives of his servants. And the more we acknowledge our need for others, the more we sense our responsibility to others in need.
It is easy to take people for granted when we think we don’t need them. But when we are driven to our knees and find ourselves unable to tie our own shoes, we learn to put our pride aside and embrace the strength of community.
Thankful for Suffering
He gave me a greater appreciation for those who suffer. Please don’t misunderstand. In the whole scheme of life, a temporary affliction like Lyme disease, when discovered early, is a manageable crisis. But as I suffered, and stinging pains shot through my joints with every movement, I experienced a taste of what it must be like for those with lifelong debilitating
I thought about two women in the church I serve. One has rheumatoid arthritis, but in spite of her pain she leads our volunteer office receptionist ministry and personally serves one day a week. The other, with multiple sclerosis, regularly participates in community outreach projects. I thought about my friend who directs our recovery ministry. He takes medication for dementia that is slowly stealing away his mind. These and many others don’t let their suffering keep them from serving the Lord, and in fact, sometimes they use the lessons they have learned in the midst of their pain to minister to others.
I will never look at people who find a way to serve God in their suffering the same way again. They have found strength this world can’t offer, and have a testimony that draws others to the throne of grace.
Thankful for Relief
He reminded me how blessed I am to have access to good medical care. The talented doctor who diagnosed and cured me saved me from years of misery. One prescription and a bottle of antibiotics later I was on the road to recovery.
Not all diseases are so easily cured, but modern medicine has found an answer for some of the deadliest illnesses in the world. Medical missionaries in impoverished countries watch people die of diseases that could have been cured if treated in time, and their hearts break for them.
Millions of people across the globe have no access to modern medicine. In America we have so many pills we have a name for the cabinet where we store them all. How can we not be thankful for our circumstances and compelled to help others with theirs?
Thankful for God
He taught me to be thankful for a God who is present in my pain. Throughout my ministry people with horrific diseases have described a portion of God’s grace that came to them in a time of need. Let me be clear: Lyme disease, when caught, is nothing compared to the life-altering and sometimes terminal illnesses others face.
Yet, for a season, I felt debilitating pain. I was afraid. And on those mornings when I practically crawled to my office desk and tears ran down my face, I found some of that grace others had experienced. It didn’t take away my physical pain, but it reminded me in no uncertain terms I had not been abandoned. It also made me more receptive to God’s leading and the silent prompting of his Spirit within me.
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in its various forms and traditions. Although the celebration is a national observance, believers view it as a spiritual opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness. With the psalmist we say, “It is good to praise the Lord” (Psalm 92:1).
It is good to praise God for the big things and the small things. We thank him for caring for us in the past, and ask him to watch over us in the future. And in this special season we look deeper to find those blessings that are the simplest of all and easy to take for granted.
Recently I was thinking about the prayers my grandfather used to offer as we gathered for our Thanksgiving feast. He thanked God for family, food, his watchful eye, and another year of life. He didn’t pray for the birds and the sky, or the neighbor’s cat. But his prayers were childlike and simple.
I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with thanking God for less simple things. In fact, if he has helped us through some incredibly complex issues in our lives, we should certainly praise him for it. It’s just that sometimes, we find our complexities are self-imposed when we worry about the wrong things and neglect what’s most important.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ (Matthew 6:25, 26).
God continues to humble me and strip away what doesn’t matter so I can see what does. And sometimes he corrects my perspective with the strangest instruction. Sometimes he even uses ticks.
Larry Jones is a freelance writer and minister at Northside Christian Church in Yorktown , VA.
Larry shared how one small tick bite had painful repercussions and taught him powerful lessons from God. God can get our attention in numerous ways—if our eyes are open to his moving.
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