There is an irony which has surprised me of late, one of those “hard crusts on the bread of adversity” which is that when my body is not well, or in pain, that the Holy Spirit seems to stand off and play hard to get. Since mortal life is in large part about learning to conquer the flesh and to yield our mortal will to God’s will, it strikes me as nearly the perfect test. As the body grows ill it becomes selfish. Nothing matters more than feeling good again, or ending the pain. Other people’s needs seem less valid or become invisible, and one’s world-view shifts from “self” being a satellite orbiting our universe, to “self” elbowing its way to the center, expecting everything and everyone to pay due homage to our pain.
When the body enthrones itself in our lives, by a lust, addiction, or by illness, it becomes our spiritual tyrant. I am learning that illness and pain are part of the “evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.” (2 Nephi 2:30)
I have experienced addiction to prescribed medication several times, it didn’t capture my spirit. I was willing to walk away at the inspired moment. I have been blessed to overcome many other fleshly snares that snatch at mankind over time, but this powerful spiritual snare of illness caught me off guard, and caught me securely. It seemed to me as if mercy and grace should protect the sufferer, but the irony is that illness seems to give the adversary greater power to use the flesh to become a tyrant and shout over the top of the Spirit of God.
As I have pondered and prayed about this amazingly effective limitation of mortality, it occurs to me that I can’t conquer the flesh in the sense of making it well again. I can believe that a miracle of faith awaits me, but as of this moment, the flesh is charting its own course. It also occurs to me that my Spirit need not follow that course. Just as my spirit need not be shouted down by the need for a prescription drug, it likewise need not be shouted down by pain. It may be harder to read the scriptures when your hands and arms are too weak to hold them up for more than a few minutes. Or, it may be harder to strive for mighty prayer when your body will endure great pain by kneeling. It may be harder to fast when the body cannot tolerate fasting. But I am learning that overcoming the flesh is ignoring those pain-inspired limitations and finding a better way through Christ – not just ignoring the pain, but in doing better things as the Spirit illuminates them. There are other ways to pray and other ways to fast which when done under inspiration, break the stranglehold of the flesh.
If the body can’t be controlled by force of will or force of habit, then it can be controlled by inspired discipleship, but longing, by pure desire and by yielding to an inspired alternative that allows the flesh to yield to the divine within us. The easy way is to let pain dictate your course, and hearkening to the voice of the Holy Spirit does not lead us in the easy way, but in the straight way. Even pain is not a justifiable excuse for stepping off of the path, which thing I had not supposed until now.
All of my life has been a series of spiritual ups and downs. Some downs I created by my choices, some by ignorance, and some of them I presently view as blessings granted to me to force me to grow once again, to give my all once again, to rely upon Christ in a greater way, to silence the flesh by faith and to glory in my Jesus once again.
I rejoice in the deliverance that can only follow deep, impenetrable darkness that melts away when we allow the sunrise of the love of God.
© June 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.