December 12, 2017

Having the Flu and Learning Greek (Delirious Thoughts on Weakness, Grace and Musical Notes)

Recently I returned from a short trip with my middle daughter, partly to celebrate her birthday and partly to assess the past difficult year. We walked miles and talked much. A major topic of conversation was simplicity and the desire we both have to learn laser-like focus of our energies and talents on God’s priorities. We want to pray more effectively, give more generously and love more deeply. We want to spend our numbered days bearing fruit, bearing much fruit and bearing fruit that remains.

My daughter came home and cancelled her cable service so she could sponsor two more children in a Haitian feeding program. I came home and signed up for a New Testament Greek class. I was proud of her and confounded by myself. I confess I didn’t really think it through. A local pastor with several impressive degrees in the subject and who has authored a Greek textbook was offering the class starting immediately. No credit would come at the end, but neither would a hefty fee be required. He was doing it for the love of Greek and the desire to share it with others. Having always wanted to learn Greek, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Fresh from walks and talks on simplicity and harboring (unbeknownst to me) a virulent flu bug, I dropped my suitcase at the door and hightailed it to class. Gathered around the table were three pastors and a linguist with a special interest in Cyrillic languages. One other lady, about my age, begged me with her eyes to not be anybody important or to have a background on the subject. No problem there. The two of us relieved each other with our mutual averageness.

The next day I tried to catch up at the office, thumbed bewilderedly through my Greek New Testament and kicked myself for my folly. I also noticed a burn below my throat and a physical malaise, vague at first. The following day it was starting to feel like plague. Even so, I was hosting a family birthday party. I warned everyone of my disease, covered my mouth and sat in the corner not talking. My twin grandchildren looked sad when I didn’t scoop them up and kiss their faces. They made wide arcs around me and stared in concern.

When everyone left, I collapsed in a heap and slept for hours. In the morning, my husband went on a business trip and I was to cover for him at work and also at home doing his outdoor chores. I can’t be sick, I thought. I don’t have time. Besides, I was pretty proud of – okay, self-righteous about – my ten-year streak of good health. I’m not allowed to take flu shots so I’ve resorted to other means of avoiding the illness. Family members tease about my witch-doctor methods. I smugly look down my nose as I check each year off with nary a sniffle and they resort to snorting large quantities of that greenish-blue nighttime cold medicine followed up by rounds of antibiotics.

Later, in a moment of desperation, I ransacked the house for the greenish blue stuff. It sustained me for the next few days as I contended with a fever, chills and body aches. Nights were a delirium as I muttered the Greek alphabet and visualized vocabulary words hanging from trees in my sleep. My teacher had mentioned that accent marks in the Greek might have, at one time, indicated tones and inflexions almost musical in nature. He told us not to worry about those for now. We should memorize the sounds and vocabulary. In my fevered state, though, I kept trying to sing them and cried from frustration. I want the musical notes too. Lord, I want the musical notes.

Finally, my fever broke. I showered and felt human again, though I was tired and contended with a cough. Then my youngest daughter, a high school student, came down with it. When I felt the heat emanating from her body and chills that shook her, I gathered her up and whisked her to the doctor. Expecting compassion, I got a lecture on the foolhardiness of neglecting flu vaccines. “We’re both allergic,” I explained.

The doctor’s next volley was that I should have visited as soon as I was sick and gotten my people on the anti-viral drug. “It’s probably too late now,” she said with a note of disgust.

Wicked Pharisee, I narrowed my eyes in her direction. You’re a doctor and we’re sick. Why don’t you just help us?

As we drove toward the pharmacy, prescription in hand, I felt defensive. This was just some nasty illness and I was smarting from the doctor’s judgment in how I’d handled it. How many, many times have I been guilty of the same superior attitude in all manor of things? (I don’t know how many, but a lot.)

At home, my daughter draped her sick self around me and said, “Thank you for taking me to the doctor, Momma. I feel relieved.” I watched her turn toward the stairway to head for her bed. Tra la. Musical notes sounded deep inside.

Then my twins, properly vaccinated against the flu, arrived to spend the night while their mom and dad attended an important meeting at church. Once during the evening, my grandson snuggled on my lap. I kissed him and he and said, “I’m glad you’re better because now I can hug you again.” La. Another musical note.

Not to be outdone, my granddaughter sat with me after her brother went in search of a toy. “I don’t care if you’re sick; I still love you.” Again, another note … la.

After everyone was asleep that night I sat with a cup of hot tea and pondered the day.

What if Jesus had had the same attitude as the doctor I’d met with earlier? I came looking for help, the kind of help a doctor can give to someone who is sick. Granted, I got it, but I also got an earful and words of condemnation. Had I followed all the rules I wouldn’t be sick in the first place. My daughter wouldn’t be sick.

I took another sip of hot tea and simultaneously felt the cold water the Holy Spirit splashed in my face. “You are like the Pharisee.” I squirmed and remembered what Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In a flood, the many times I’d majored in judgment and minored in compassion rushed into my thoughts. Use your imagination. They range from silly to serious and profoundly embarrassing. I am ashamed to admit that I can be critical and unflinching toward others and also with myself. Growing up in chaos, I coped by grabbing control, clinging tightly and never letting go. I’ve often imposed harsh expectations on those around me.

Oh Jesus, I’m sorry. A cough rose in my chest. It was the kind of cough that you start in the middle of and can’t get behind. It was the kind that leaves you shaking with exhaustion. Really, I should understand weakness better by now. Somehow, despite some disadvantages early in life, I have been the recipient of God’s most loving and lavish grace. He was the physician who came with compassion and healing for me, first when I didn’t know or care one whit about him and then repeatedly in the midst of family dysfunction, depression, financial ups and downs, sorrows, sins and frustrations that have left me apathetic and too spent to properly love or worship him.

In my normal good health I approach God in prayer every morning with energy and passion. In my sickness, I lay weakly and pleaded for the Holy Spirit to cover that for me. I couldn’t muster anything. Then I realized all my human attempts are inadequate anyway. It is only by a mysterious ministry of the Spirit a love for God, pleasing worship or even repentance is manifested in me – or in any of us.

No one likes feeling weak, but it is the condition of our humanity. In a spiritual sense we are all on equal footing, abject paupers before God. In earthly experience, we suffer it in varying and seemingly inequitable degrees. Pharisees or not, the experience of sin … or sickness is effective at impressing us with how we need grace and also how we need to give it. At one time, the Apostle Paul was the holder of cloaks while his judgmental compatriots pelted Stephen with stones. Later, he was struck blind by Grace himself and forever changed. Deep into the ministry that had him preaching the Christ he once mocked and planting churches all over the Mediterranean world, he was again weakened by affliction. He wrote of the Lord’s revelation to him in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s mature response was to boast of his weaknesses, knowing that Christ’s life would fill the void.

Something of that principle can be learned from observing children. Twins, at age four, can be a rambunctious handful, not always listening, not always obeying. They want meals and baths and help in the bathroom. They ask for toys and someone to push them for hours on the swing. They cry when they’re tired and punch each other when they’re grumpy. In one day, they have a thousand requirements that they can’t provide for themselves. In human terms, they are weak and really, they know it. They’re not too proud to ask for help or for what they just plain want and I comply in most instances, only holding back when their requests will not be helpful to them.

Sometimes in rare quiet moments they tolerate my hugs and kisses – barely — then escape to their next activity. On occasion, they purposely climb into my lap, kiss me and tell me they love me and the musical notes of epiphany sound deep within. It is not their non-existent perfect behavior that makes me love them. It is that they are mine and I am theirs.

And so it is with the Father. He first loved us. He has loved us always. He will love us always. In Christ, we are not excoriated for our weaknesses. We are healed of them. We are filled up with his life and given his grace. We have the musical notes that we have longed for. We … are … his … and … he … is … ours.

Comments

  1. My husband and I have just arrived in Korea to teach English to Korean university students, and we’re feeling so weak, helpless and unknowing. So much is new to us, we don’t understand almost all conversations around us, and little around us is grounded in the familiar. We have been reminded by this immersion of the need to be grounded in God, to depend on God for our strength, wisdom and guidance. There is fear and anxiety that accompanies this experience, but there is peace and hope in being in the arms of the eternal, all loving God.

  2. For once I can finally say “It’s all Greek to me!!!” and actually mean it!!! 😀 😀 😀

  3. You make your point beautifully!

  4. To skip right over your point and focus on the minutia, you could have got the vaccine and still been all out sick. This year’s flu is a nasty bug and many of the people I know who were sick had been properly immunized. There are no rules to follow that are guaranteed to keep you from your inherent human weaknesses. Oh, wait, maybe that kinda was your point.

  5. Glad you are feeling better, Lisa. Thanks for your heartfelt story. But please don’t be too contrite; working in health care, I have come to realize that many doctors ARE wicked Pharisees!

  6. By the NT times the accents were only stress indicators, with no tonal differences differentiating them. So, who is your Greek teacher/author?

    • Hi Eric. Yes, you are right. My notes from that lesson say that would have been before the N.T. era. I didn’t communicate that very well. Sorry to be misleading.

      • You weren’t being misleading. I was just wanting to make you feel better about not knowing the tones, because Jesus and Paul and the other NT authors/speakers didn’t know or use them, either! 🙂

  7. I won’t use the flu vaccine, never have, never will. Too many possible side effects. Glad you are feeling better and I hope your daughter feels better soon. Good luck on the Koine Greek, it isn’t easy to learn at any age.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    New Testament Greek was required in the seminary I attended. I remember dreading the awful prospect. But I developed a memorization system that suited me and to my amazement it worked. This beginning course was pass/fail and did nothing to affect grade average. So if you didn’t pass it first try, a second and third was always possible. I never enjoyed it a lot, but eventually took a course in NT exegesis which was wonderful. There can be benefits at the end.

    The teacher we had deemphasized the accent marks and did not require them in exams.

    I have an admiration for any adult who takes on a new language, whatever it might be.

  9. I LOVE these lines, Lisa: “One other lady, about my age, begged me with her eyes to not be anybody important or to have a background on the subject. No problem there. The two of us relieved each other with our mutual averageness.”

  10. “La. Another musical note.”
    I love that, Lisa!

    I always try to remember to thank God for unseen mercies.
    Now, I will add a prayer request to help me hear the “La’s” all around me, too.

  11. I think of the times I got a flue vacine and still got sick (rolls eyes…)

  12. What is it about our God whom we see in the unexpected moments? Then in those moments when we’ve put on the full armor quite deliberately and we’re super spiritual, he runs off and helps the sick! He is hilarious and vexing and very endearing.

  13. Lisa,

    You briefly lost me right in the beginning at “pray more effectively” – if we are to come to God as trusting children, even if our conversations hopefully will have effects on us, are they therefore “effective”? And is it us who make them so?

    But you definitely had me again at “Then I realized all my human attempts are inadequate anyway. It is only by a mysterious ministry of the Spirit a love for God, pleasing worship or even repentance is manifested in me – or in any of us.”

    Thank you!

  14. “The Romantic poet, Lord Byron in Don Juan explored the essence, the nuance and beauty of words, quite succinctly: “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, Falling like dew upon a thought, produces That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
    Byron was expressing an elemental idea. Thoughts are fleeting, but words once written, become tangible things and as things, they acquire a power thoughts alone could never have had. A poem, composed of words interlaced with allusion, can tease out thought, stretch mental muscles, cull an abstract idea, extend and elaborate on an inventive train of thought, nurture original thinking, abandon customary patterns and catalyze shifts in perception. After all the prime function of an areÌ‚te education should be to scrap dogma, don’t you think?”

    Thank-You Lisa… Your posts put words to what I cannot articulate. When I read this (above) I thought aah, so this is what happens over at IM. Not only the writers, but the responses from the readers, so much of it is like poetry, making me think and feel…

    • Great quotation from Byron, Gail. Thanks for sharing that with us.

      Oooh, THAT was surprising! I accidentally clicked on a wrong key and I looked at the page and it was all in some other language. I looked at the box near the top of the page and it said the page was in Ukrainian. Back to English…whew, all is well with the world again. 😉

    • Watchman Nee speaks to this idea in his writing, especially in The Ministry of the Word, though not quite so poetically at Byron. God gives us flashes of revelation, but we must fight to articulate them. When we do, his Spirit does a mysterious work. He is so good!

  15. “Sometimes in rare quiet moments they tolerate my hugs and kisses – barely — then escape to their next activity. On occasion, they purposely climb into my lap, kiss me and tell me they love me and the musical notes of epiphany sound deep within. It is not their non-existent perfect behavior that makes me love them. It is that they are mine and I am theirs.

    And so it is with the Father. He first loved us. He has loved us always. He will love us always. In Christ, we are not excoriated for our weaknesses. We are healed of them. We are filled up with his life and given his grace. We have the musical notes that we have longed for. We … are … his … and … he … is … ours.”

    Thank you, Lisa, this was/is priceless…what a way to sum it all up!

  16. Molly Jayne40 says:

    How very strange and wonderful the ways of the Lord. I’m going through a very, very difficult time – much more difficult than I’ve been willing to admit to myself or anyone else until just now. I just finished writing about a tiny part of the cause in a Facebook Note. Then I Googled the title to make sure it didn’t show up because internet privacy was one of the topics. “Learn from My Folly Facebook Notes” dispatched you as a choice. I’m chronically ill, but especially sick and feeling feeble of body and mind right now. I am often complimented for my writing but this last piece I wrote was substandard. I debated going back and correcting it. God led me here I know. I need to rest. I couldn’t sleep. What you say is meaningful, but how you say it is absolutely beautiful. I cried and I smiled. I found a place of peace where torment was necrotizing my soul. God speaks to me in echoes. Yesterday, home ill from church,I received a text from my spouse of one of my favorite Scripture. I prefer the following translation, “Do not worry yourself about tomorrow, for each day has enough worries of it’s own. Be content with the troubles of today” Matt 6:34. I texted back another favorite, “I know what I have in store for you, says the Lord, a future full of wonder not of woe, a future full of Hope” Jeremiah 29:11. God spoke through Scripture, but God continues to speak to us through each other. You are a splendid vessel of Holy Spirit’s voice. I don’t know how you could consider yourself “average”. Average rates in the middle. It is typical of a set, commonplace. You, as God’s creation, are no worse nor better than another human being, but you are special, unique, interesting, worthwhile – anything but commonplace. You don’t rate in the middle; you top the charts. Each of us does in our own way. Sometimes I lose sight of that. Now I am reminded. We each are the temple of the Holy Spirit, of The Most Divine. I humbly bow to that presence as I quiet myself and reflect on the humility needed to accept and love myself at any given moment, whatever my weakness for I am imperfect by design but made in the Creator’s image. Blessings. Namaste.

    • I am blessed — and instructed — by what you have written here. You will be in prayers.

  17. JoanieD says:

    “You don’t rate in the middle; you top the charts. Each of us does in our own way.”

    What a beautiful thing to say, Molly Jane40. I am sorry to hear that you are so ill. I pray that you will experience total peace and love through God.

  18. I actually started to learn Greek a couple of weeks ago. I’m scheduled to audit a course at a local seminary, but until then I’m using http://learngreekfree.com/ (the teacher sings the Greek alphabet, so that will hopefully make you happy)