The Selfishness of Sickness

When you have a progressive, degenerative sickness like Parkinson’s disease or any long-term health condition or injury, there is a tendency to become selfish. We are told by God to consider other people’s needs above our own. Most of my life I have known this command and have tried to live it. Now that I’m sick, I’m finding it more difficult to do. The requirements and demands of the disease are getting in the way.

Growing up a Christian trying to live an unselfish life, I know how hard it can be to deny ourselves and put someone else first. I understand why God asked us to do this. It’s one of those things that makes sense after the fact. The root of selfishness is pride. Selfishness is loving ourselves instead of loving God and others.

When I wasn’t sick, being unselfish was something I could choose to be. It was just a matter of making the right choice. There were no obstacles keeping me from choosing to be unselfish.

Now, Parkinson’s disease is conspiring with my body and brain to look inward rather than outward. Outward to the needs of others is where my gaze should be fixed.

Before my sickness, the moment by moment decisions and needs were mostly under my control. A situation would arise and I was free to decide what to do. A need would present itself, either for me or someone else, and I was free to fulfill or deny the need. What I found out about God was if I kept my attention on the needs of others, my needs would be taken care of. I had very little reason to look inward at my own needs. God always provided. I was free to consider other’s needs and the needs of my wife, my children, family, friend’s, employers, co-workers and strangers. Anyone that crossed my path. Many times, I failed in my attempt to live an unselfish life, but to live unselfishly was my desire.

Today, as I write this I find I am becoming a selfish person. A person that is more and more considering my needs more than the needs of others. I still know that God requires me to consider others more than I consider myself. It’s getting harder. When every part of my body is screaming, ” I’m in pain,” or ” I don’t want to move,” or ” I’m going to move whether you want me to or not,” it’s hard not to fix my gaze inward. When I refer to the selfishness of sickness, I can only speak of Parkinson’s disease/ Arthritis. (I have not spoken with many other sick people about what is being screamed at them, but I would imagine the screams are similar to mine and they are also being drawn inward).

These are a few of the obstacles Parkinson’s has placed in my path to being unselfish.

Making it difficult to find a place to be comfortable and remain comfortable for more than a short time.

Taking away my ability to walk more than a few steps without becoming exhausted.

Taking away my ability to stand unaided for more than a few minutes without having to sit.

Taking away my ability to speak loudly and clearly enough for people to understand what I am trying to say. With that, taking away my desire to speak because of frustration and embarrassment.

Taking away my desire for normal conversation because of fatigue and frustration.

Taking away the pleasure of eating out in public because of the fear of choking.

Taking away the pleasure of just leaving my house because of the fear of falling or just getting into a situation out of my control.

These obstacles and others that just show up regularly are making it hard to not be selfish. They cause me to want to always control my surroundings to meet my needs.

I know that God still wants me to do what He has asked us to do. He wants me to love Him. He wants me to trust Him. He wants me to love those around me. Because I am sick, those around me are fewer than before. My ability and opportunity to touch people’s lives is diminishing. I also know that being sick does not excuse me from being unselfish.

I was talking with my wife last night. I told her that I was concerned about the future and that my life was getting smaller and smaller and could soon disappear. Her response resulted in one of those moments that had the possibility of changing the course of the rest of my life. She told me I was fortunate and in a unique place. She said most Christians desire to know God better but the tyranny of the immediate, the demands of life and of time does not allow them to spend the time with God that they would like. She said I have been set free from that. Even though my body is bound, my mind and spirit are free to pursue God without limitation. Now that’s interesting. As long as my mind and spirit are free, I am free to live an unselfish life. It doesn’t matter if it comes to the point that my body can’t leave the house. I can still live the life God wants me to live. I can commit acts of unselfishness despite any obstacle placed in my path.

As I live out the rest of this blink of an eye that’s my life here on earth, I will probably be a tad selfish regarding what I must do to live a life with Parkinson’s. I may need to use tools to cope with the effects of the disease that will appear to be selfish. But my heart’s desire and my resolve will be to consider you and your needs above my own, whenever and however I can.

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