FORT WORTH, Texas – It became clear that things were not right. I could not walk straight, there was a tingling sensation in my hands and feet, and I had limited use of the muscles in my face.
Multiple doctors but no answers.
I remember sleeping on the couch, trying to get comfortable and telling God that I was ready for whatever He had to tell me. During all of this I shared my symptoms with my brother, who casually mentioned them to a member in our church. She was a doctor who formerly worked at a neurological hospital. She called him late on a Saturday night and woke him up to tell him she knew what I had and exactly what hospital to go to.
While I was sick of doctors, I begrudgingly went the next day. Within 10 minutes, the doctors had diagnosed me with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system begins to eat away at your nerves, or in my case, the myelin coating around your nerves.
The next day I was in the hospital receiving some of the best care possible. In the hospital for six days, physical therapy for a few months, and now I’m on the back end of what they predicted would be a yearlong recovery. It appears that I will have no long-term effects. How God healed me and delivered me is something for which I will always be grateful. How my wife maneuvered heaven and earth, managed the family, enlisted an army of pray-ers, and wrangled the health care world is an amazing story in its own right.
But for now, I want to talk about what God taught me during all of this.
The truth is He did not teach me much during all of it, but after. About three months into recovery and rehab I began to make a list of all the things I thought I needed to change and even employed a counselor friend to help me change them.
“Well Steve,” he began, “I have to know one thing. Are you ruined?”
It was off putting, but I knew what he was saying. He was asking if I was to the place where I was broken enough that I would receive counsel. I was not sure. Who really is so self-aware that they know they are humble? If you are, then are you really humble?
He did help me but not so much with those specific things. He helped me with something much greater. He helped me understand Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The poor in spirit are not those whose circumstances are worse than others; the poor in spirit are those who realize that all of our circumstances are bad! We are all wretched and needy. We are all lost. The healthy, the sick, the rich, the poor, we all lack the ability to have what we really want – acceptance in God’s Kingdom. We can’t have that because we are broken. The poor in spirit are not worse off. Rather, they are the ones with enough spiritual vision to see the truth. The poor in spirit are advantaged because they are honest. They see their sin so they can actually follow the rest of the Beatitudes. They can go further to mourning and further still to being meek – the final place of abandonment where we give all of our energies in service of God.
So, what I guess God taught me is how weak I really am. How vulnerable. How shallow. How insignificant. Now that sounds like a bad thing. But it’s not. It would only be a bad thing to know if it were not true. But since it is true, it’s good to know. Any strength, depth or significance will have to be supplied from another Source.
Outside of the gifts of my salvation and my family, perhaps this debilitating illness has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I’m so grateful.
Before the diagnosis, when we were still scrambling for some answers, I went to an ER late on a Saturday night. After four hours they sent me home exhausted, weak and fatigued, and we still had no diagnosis. I got up a few hours later and went to my preaching assignment where I was forced to preach while sitting down. My dependent posture reflected the fact that I had no choice in either matter: the matter of preaching or the matter of sitting. I had to preach and I had to sit. I had to preach, and I did not have the ability to preach. I had to proclaim, and I had to depend. Both of those things were always true, however much I was aware of it. I must preach, and I can’t without God’s power. I’m always preaching dependent. And He always supplies. I’m always resting. He is always supporting. Because I am that weak and He is that strong. And, it’s good to know.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steven Smith is dean of the College at Southwestern with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of communication. This column first was posted at www.TheologicalMatters.com, a Southwestern Seminary website.)