Last night, in the fullness of time, I said, “Katie, it’s time to go to bed!” And she put up the fight that she always does. She wants to watch Cinderella, she wants to play toys, she wants breakfast. It’s always something. Last night, she tried a new trick- “I feel sick”. She’s sick, and that’s why she can’t go to bed and has to stay up and play toys instead.
Human nature rears its ugly head. We all learned early on that we got out of responsibility when we were sick. It took us about two seconds to make the next extrapolation, which is that if there’s something I didn’t want to do, I could pretend to be sick and get out of it.
Of course, there was always the guilt involved in doing such a thing. And that led to the next trick, which was to search myself for some little ache, some less-than-perfect feeling that could be the reason why I can’t be expected to fulfill my obligations. And the weird thing was, lots of times when I engaged in that process of trying to find something wrong with me, I would start actually feeling worse. Hypochondria and psychosomatic illnesses are of course well-documented. What many people don’t realize, though, is that a psychosomatic illness is not a faked illness. It is a symptom in the body that is generated in the mind. The mind is the source, but the feeling is real. It’s just that it’s impossible to treat effectively, since the mind is generating the symptoms.
As I get older of course, the body starts to work less well than it did when I was 18. There’s always some ache, some little niggly feeling. And it would be a matter of some ease to amplify those feelings into a full-blown illness and thus be excused from meeting my obligations. But one of the most helpful pieces of advice I got from my mother as a child was when complaining of just such some minor ache. She said, “we all have aches and pains. But we still have to do what we have to do.”
Our society seems to become increasingly therapeutic in its orientation. Every problem, every imperfection in the body must be treated by some medical technology, and failure to do so is some great catastrophe that all too frequently results in lawsuits. Or it results in the afflicted person opting out of any responsibility. They can’t take care of their kids, they can’t work, they can’t do whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing because they’re sick.
One of the things that makes this problem so difficult to address is the fact that there is a great deal of genuinely debilitating illnesses and injuries that occur. Chronic pain or weakness can be such a burden on a person. You don’t want to seem unsympathetic. But it’s not sympathetic to encourage people to invent reasons to avoid responsibility.
If it really is a heart problem, then the cure must be to the heart as well. And as in all things, the answer is forgiveness of sins. I know that I would most often try to get out of school or work when there was some insurmountable problem there that I didn’t feel like I could deal with. Some test or some deadline that I wasn’t prepared for. People feel a great deal of guilt about their lives- their families, their jobs, their involvement with church, and one way of dealing with that guilt is just opting out. If I’m sick, or if I have some mental disorder or something like that, then I can’t be expected to live up to my responsibilities.
But when we learn that all of us on our own are failures, that all of us fail our families, our churches, our jobs, because of our fallen natures, but that Jesus has removed the guilt of that and with His power we can get back on the horse and try again, then we can overcome that guilt. We can learn not to look for escape hatches or dodges, and that avoiding responsibility just makes the problems worse anyway.
The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the street!” Maybe, and maybe not. But there’s always a reason not to do what we should do. Katie’s already learned that. But by God’s grace and forgiveness, we can learn to go face our lions and defeat them.