Paul asks the rhetorical question in I Corinthians 14:8 “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” Those of you who were in church last Sunday may have noticed that I set my trumpet aside after struggling to get it to make a clear sound. It was the first indication to me that something more serious was amiss. I say “more serious” because I had been experiencing a host of odd symptoms and fatigue that I was attributing to a potential case of Lyme disease. I had already been to the doctor and had started treatment for Lyme but this was something different. My lips didn’t seem to be able to function properly to make the trumpet play. At the time I attributed the weakness to an injury sustained a few weeks ago when I took an elbow to the mouth playing basketball that required a few stitches. But in the days that followed it became evident that something else was happening. It turns out I was experiencing a relatively mild case of Bell’s Palsy or Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (a similar phenomenon with a different cause) which results in a partial paralysis of the facial muscles on one side.
The good news is that it seems to have been caught early and with proper treatment there is every reason to believe that I will experience a full or nearly full restoration of function to the muscles on the left side of my face – though it may take some time before the trumpet can make a more certain sound. Nor will I be whistling while I work anytime soon. In the meantime, if I appear to wink at you, don’t read any deeper meaning into it – just a lazy eye, or if my left eye weeps (another symptom) it is probably not your words that are moving me to tears. Other than that my symptoms are mild enough that unless I told you, you would probably not notice my slightly crooked smile.
But on the whole, though it is quite annoying at times, I am grateful for the experience. I have been largely blessed all my life with excellent health which can easily be taken for granted. I have never before even thought to be thankful for my facial muscles nor the enormously complex nervous system that delivers the symphony of commands that make playing a trumpet possible – or even something as simple as eating cereal off a spoon without dribbling some down my beard.
I have sometimes heard the sentiment expressed that “good health is everything.” I disagree wholeheartedly. Among many things more important than good health is gratitude and if a temporary loss of health fosters a deeper gratitude it is well worth the trouble. I have known people in perfect health who were miserable ingrates and conversely, I have known people – many of them actually – who were beaming with joy and gratitude even as the body wasted away. As Paul writes in II Corinthians 4:16,17 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
But the experience is good for me in another way: it gives me opportunity to practice what I preach and thereby to sympathize a little bit more with those I am called to minister too. I often find myself dispensing good sound theological advice about peace of mind, about God’s goodness at all times, about trusting in God day by day and not allowing fear to take over, etc. to those facing far more daunting prognoses than my own. If this experience enables me to sympathize more fully and convincingly with those I minister to, then the experience is doubly useful – indeed good (II Corinthians 1:3-7). If so, if I can trumpet the grace of God with greater clarity and conviction, if God’s glory can be promoted through my weakness then so be it. His glory is more important than my health.
In the meantime I greatly appreciate the prayers going up on my behalf. There is always a possibility that the condition could worsen and the symptoms become permanent. I won’t pretend that the thought doesn’t scare me. But I trust that even then, my faith would grow to meet the challenge and that in my weakness God would be glorified. Above all – even more than healing – to that end pray.