Being Sick Well: Joyful Living Despite Chronic Illness (Dr. Jeffrey H. Boyd)

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Today I spent 1.5 hours in one of my favorite places in the world – a library – specifically my alma mater and employer’s library – Philadelphia Biblical University. I went in just to pick up a few books on worship for my sermon on Sunday but then walked the aisles of books, finally leaving with two bags packed with books.

One of the books I picked up is Jeffrey H. Boyd’s Being Sick Well: Joyful Living Despite Chronic Illness. Why would I be interested in such a volume? Two reasons. First, I’ve suffered from both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Major Depressive Episodes for as long as I have memories of my existence. Secondly, I work with a church (Calvary Community Church) where a large percentage of our congregation is amongst the “ageing” – many of whom suffer from a number of chronic conditions – arthritis, cancer, bad joints, and so on. It seemed this volume would be applicable to my life personally as well as to my life corporately – that is, how I interact with others.

I haven’t made it far, I’m still threading through the introduction – but I wanted to share a few quotes that struck me and highlight the steps Boyd will further illuminate throughout the volume as being part of “Joyful Living.”

At the start of the Introduction Boyd shares concerning his first wife’s severe and chronic illnesses, concluding, “…Pat’s medical disasters were not her main experience in life. The diseases were often quiet and well behaved. There were long periods of normal life.” (pg. 7) What a beautiful picture! This resonated within my heart. While the episodes of OCD and depression feel as if they are all that exists when I am in them, the truth is that there is more to life. Tonight as I held Charity in my arms before she left for a bible study or now as a little kitten rests upon my legs – these are moments of joy and grace.

Boyd then comments on the prevalence of chronic conditions: “At least 45 percent of all Americans have a chronic condition, accounting for 78 percent of the healthcare budget.” (pg. 8) In other words, one out of every two individuals! It appears that the second half of his introduction will discuss the reasons for these high percentages.

Another soul healing statement comes on pg. 9, “I do not mean to say that joy is always within the reach of sick people. Job in the Bible finds no joy until God rescues him from his skin disease and other catastrophes…Some people who suffer on this earth will find happiness only in heaven, after they die.” Too often we are expected to be so happy and smiling in the midst of our suffering, yet Boyd acknowledges that sometimes, for some people there is no relief this side of eternity.

Reading this book I figured I’d draw general principles, not specific instances – because who thinks of mental illnesses as a chronic illness? But Boyd again surprises and delights me when he writes, “My own chronic illness has been major depression. I inherited it from my father, who had it worse than I. My tendency toward gloom and pessimism has waxed and waned since childhood. It is insidious.” (pg. 10) The author is both aware of and familiar with mental ailments as a form of chronic illness! Something which I am still coming to grips with in my own life (intellectually I acknowledge, practically – I sometimes deny it).

The brief overview of steps which Boyd will address for “Joyful Living” are:

  • Build up your relationships, create a solid social network.
  • Decide what priorities really matter to you and focus on them.
  • Don’t spend all your time thinking about and bemoaning your illness.
  • Use mental willpower to keep a positive attitude even when things aren’t great.
  • Avoid disasters in your life.
  • Use humor, even if it is “gallows humor” to lighten the load for yourself and others.
  • Take each day individually – don’t be overwhelmed by thinking about the rest of your life.
  • Exercise as much as you can (grrr).
  • Use the spiritual resources available to you to cope – medical research indicates that spiritual beliefs are a great source of strength in illness.
  • Say the Eastern Orthodox Jesus Prayer.
  • Go to church and be involved in your church community.
  • Be involved in changing the world – if there is no cure for you, help there be a cure for others.
  • Take charge of your health needs. You be your main advocate and organizer when it comes to healthcare.
  • Take your medications religiously.
  • Keep up hope that a cure will be invented.
  • Stay busy, don’t allow yourself to withdraw from life.
  • If you are a caregiver, take pride in your work.
  • Enjoy the small blessings of life in spit of the illness.
  • Don’t pay attention to those who abandon you because of your illness.
  • Use your suffering as a means to help others –  Fanny Crosbey, though blind, wrote 9,000 hymns!
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