By Beth J. Drechsel
For most of my life I’ve been chronically ill with a hereditary blood coagulation defect. I suffer with joint and muscle pain, fatigue and sleep deprivation. For many years, despite my illness, I was able to use my spiritual gift, joyfully serving in my local church whereever that was: on the Navajo Indian Reservation, in the Chicago area, in the Philippines, in Phoenix, Arizona. Physically it was always hard, but I learned to ration my strength, temporarily pushing through. And even if I suffered for it later (and believe me, I did), God always provided me with enough strength to do it again.
A few years ago, my husband and I moved to a new state, a new town, and joined a new church. This change coincided with a further erosion of my health. I had to accept that I no longer have a reservoir of energy to dip from, and that no matter how hard I petition, God is not replenishing me with physical strength. Serving my husband and family and running my home is more than enough. Frankly, sometimes those responsibilities overwhelm me. I have nothing left for serving at church.
I have missed a lot of Sunday worship, Bible study and church activities. As a result, very few people at church know me on more than a surface level. When I think about my congregation, there are so many people I would like to spend time with. I grieve that I can’t. I recognize that if I were a regular attender and could be more involved, things would be different. There are so many opportunities for service, so many good things I would enjoy being a part of. But I don’t volunteer for anything. I can’t commit, I know I’m no longer dependable. I grieve that I can’t play my unique part, the role God gave me. He gifted me in a marvelous way, just as He does every believer, giving spiritual gifts to build up and equip the body. I mourn the loss of the special camaraderie of serving together with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
What does my service to the body of Christ look like when I know what my spiritual gift is, and have developed it over the years, but am at a place in life where I am unable to use it because of physical limitations? I don’t believe God takes away a spiritual gift He has given, or the desire I have to continue using it, but He seems to be changing the practice of that gift in my life.
Adjusting to the physical limitations has been difficult and it has been compounded by the perspective of people who mean well, but don’t really know me. I am frustrated by comments like, “Have you had the elders pray over you for healing? Or “God always gives the strength for what He has called you to do.” Once someone was talking about individuals who miss church services and used the phrase, “flimsy excuses.” Ouch! These remarks aren’t necessarily directed at me and I don’t want to take offense easily, especially when I know that in the past I have been guilty of saying very similar things to others.
To be fair, these people have only seen me at my best when I am “fine,” well enough to be at church for a few hours. They’ve never seen me at my worst because those are the times I stay at home. These are wonderful people and I am so grateful they are in my life. I know they care about me. I care about them, too. But there is a disconnect. We are brothers and sisters in Christ but unless I stay for years in the same church, or am able to be at most every church service or activity, it’s very difficult to get to know others and have them know me. As a result, my commitment to the group, and perhaps even my spiritual walk, tends to be either subtly questioned or I find I am ignored entirely.
So at this stage of my life, in the context of the church, who am I? Where do I fit? I know that God calls me to minister to my brothers and sisters, His body, through my spiritual gift as an offering of praise. But what do I have to offer the body of Christ when I so often cannot physically attend church services, let alone be there to serve?
I’ve had plenty of time to think about this. Plenty of sleepless nights, plenty of days holding down the easy chair in the living room, plenty of hours of loneliness and feeling sorry for myself. I am comforted by how the Bible doesn’t ignore my physical pain, nor my feelings, but gives expression to them. Psalm 51:8 speaks directly to me,“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.” I am encouraged by I Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you might declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light.”
I still belong to that chosen people. And though I may not be at church much, and I’m not using my gift in the same way as I used to, I remain committed to a local body of believers. I am a part of them and they are a part of me. One way I can serve them is through prayer, so I have joined the church’s prayer chain. This is a “small” thing but I can do it, and I know that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance, He looks on the heart. Though my physical body may be “crushed,” and my spiritual gift can no longer be administered in the way it used to, my heart can rejoice and be glad. My prayers and praise to Him are an act of service.
Question from the editors: How does your congregation stay connected with those who aren’t always able to physically attend services?
Beth Drechsel is a homemaker and gardener living in Flora Vista, New Mexico. She is happily married to her husband, Paul, and they have two adult sons. She finds joy in her simple life and in her relationships.