Friday, January 1, 2010

The parable of me

Crohn's Disease is a very nasty customer. To anyone not familiar with Crohn's, it falls in a general classification of auto-immune diseases; essentially these are conditions in which the body's immune system has a difficult time identifying friend versus foe and, ultimately, ends up attacking other parts of the body. Most things ending in "itis" fall under this category, the most common of which is arthritis.

While some auto-immune diseases are not life-threatening, Crohn's Disease can be. When your immune system attacks your bowels, the bowel becomes inflamed, forms scar tissue over the inflamed area, and ultimately loses its ability to perform its function. This is horribly inconvenient should Crohn's occur in your large bowel but, ultimately, you can live without your large bowel as I can attest to. However, if Crohn's Disease attacks your small bowel, the situation is much worse. The scar tissue prevents the small bowel from absorbing nutrients and, if the disease progresses unchecked, you cannot retain enough energy to live.

Along the way, many things can happen: pain, fatigue, loss of strength, surgery. I can remember sitting in a chair completely daunted by the task of brushing my teeth. For weeks I had enough strength to do about 15 minutes of activity per day. That's it.

One of the more sobering aspects of Crohn's disease is this: not only the small bowel is affected. My thighs, which are just fine thank you very much, atrophied to a comic state because they were not receiving enough nutrients and because I didn't have enough energy to exercise. Plus my joints were hurting, so exercise was even more difficult regardless of the thighs being fine. Ditto for my pectoral and bicep muscles.

If you'd been able to talk to my auto-immune system during my most recent bout with Crohn's, it would have said something like this: "who, me? I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do. That tissue looked suspicious, it's gotta go." The auto-immune system was simply doing what it thought was best. Further, it is not an option to get rid of the auto-immune system; it was performing a vital function for the body. Even while attacking the large bowel, it was defending the body from foreign elements and warding off other sicknesses.

So, why am I sharing all of this?

Early in my convalescence, I was sitting in church exhausted from a day of... well... sitting in church. I was trying to make sense of my weakness when God laid a parable on my heart: I am a metaphor of the church.

We, the Christians of the world, are the Church and as such, the Bible repeatedly compares us and our inter-operations with that of the human body. Just as the different cells, organs, and systems of the body serve different purposes, we -- the members of the body of Christ -- each serve different purposes (I Cor. 12) ;but all for one goal: God's glory. The body of Christ must work together, each performing his or her own unique purpose, just as the human body must work together.

The Bible is also full of references to situations where the body of Christ wasn't working in harmony as it should have been (Philippians 4:2, I Corinthians 3:3-5, Galatians 2:11). This is what God laid on my heart: dysfunction in the body of Christ has the exact same consequences as dysfunction -- Crohn's disease -- in the human body.

So, backing up to my medical condition and using the analogy: when one member of the church attacks another, the church as a whole cannot expect to operate to full capacity any more than my body could operate to full capacity while Crohn's disease was attacking my intestines. Similarly, just because you personally are not involved in the altercation doesn't mean that you are not impacted by the situation. Rather, you are just like the thigh; you may not have a personal problem, but you are cut off from the nutrition and the support system that the rest of the body is supposed to supply, but cannot.

It doesn't matter who is involved and it doesn't matter the reasoning; when the body attacks itself it cannot complete all of its assigned tasks. The worse the problem, the less the productivity until the body of Christ, just like my human body, is sitting in a church pew too tired to do anything other than sit.

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