I'm gonna try an Advent experiment.
The other night during our prayer time together, my husband and I read a few pages from a little book called The Blessing of Christmas. It's a collection of writings from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Our Holy Father is a brilliant man and gifted writer and so profoundly in love with Jesus. The book begins with his encouragement to those who are sick or confined, and how Advent can be a unique blessing to them. He says, "Just like a great joy, so too illness and suffering can be a very personal Advent of one's own -- a visit by the God who enters my life and wants to encounter me personally. Even when it is difficult for us, we should at least try to understand the days of our illness in this way: The Lord has interrupted my activity for a time in order to let me be still."
"...in order to let me be still." It's a gift He's giving me.
"In my daily living, I have little time for Him and little time for myself. I am completely involved from morning to evening in all the things I have to do, and I even succeed in eluding my own grasp, because I do not know how to be alone with myself. My job possesses me; the society in which I live possesses me; entertainment of various kinds possesses me; but I do not possess myself. And this means that I gradually go to seed like an overgrown garden, first in my external activities and then, in my inner life, too. I am propelled along by my activities, for I am merely a cog in their great machinery."
Any of this sounding familiar? Could it be that at least on occasion, God's remedy for our constant busyness and chaos is a little illness? (Gasp! What are you saying? God doesn't make us sick! No...the fallen world we live in and the sinful nature of our selves takes care of that. But God in His wisdom and mercy wants to make excellent use of our times of illness if we allow Him.)
"But now God has drawn me out of all this. I am obliged to be still. I am obliged to wait. I am obliged to reflect on myself; I am obliged to bear being alone. I am obliged to bear pain, and I am obliged to accept the burden of my own self. All this is hard. But may it not be the case that God is waiting for me in this stillness? May it not be the case that He is doing here what Jesus says in the parable of the vine: "Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (Jn 15:2)?"
"A visit by the Lord -- perhaps illness can present itself in a new light when we see it as a part of Advent...it can be a moment in our life that belongs to God, a time when we are open to Him and thus rediscover our own selves."
So back to my experiment... I have rheumatoid arthritis. It has begun eroding the bones and joints in my fingers and toes, so my hands and feet are in steady, constant pain. Simple, daily tasks can be difficult and I often ask my husband for help with things. But for the most part, I do what I need to do and life goes on. But sometimes on a bad day, when the pain is intense and my hands feel stiff as wood, my tolerance for enduring this illness goes out the window.
But after reading the Holy Father's wisdom, I want to spend Advent differently. When the pain flares to a new intensity, when I'm too exhausted to tend to my chores, when it hurts just to pick up my toddler, I will remember those words: "God has interrupted my activity for a time in order to let me be still." And I will stop, and be still, and thank Him. I will thank Him for the gift of this illness. And I'll pray that He will make excellent use of it in my soul.