This week has been a major lesson in learning to die to self. Each day we are presented with opportunities to crucify our own egos, wants, and desires so that we can learn to love as Christ loves, but some periods of our lives require more of us. I’m in the middle of one of those periods right now. My husband is in an active flare up of his rare auto-immune disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis.
He has a new lesion in his right lung. His specialists are concerned that his infusion antibody treatments are no longer doing the job, so we’ve had to make the decision to put him on another immune suppression drug on top of it. Anyone who has lived with these drugs knows that it’s always the choice of the lesser of two evils since there are serious risks associated with these medications. It also means that my husband is even more immune compromised right in the middle of flu season.
Sacrifice in Flu Season
Sunday evening our daughter started showing signs of a cold with a slight fever. By Monday morning her fever was over 102 degrees and she had a sore throat and chesty cough. I was starting to suspect the flu or strep. My husband and I spoke on the phone that afternoon while he was at work when we had to make the decision to have him stay in a hotel until our daughter is feeling better. Even though my husband has had the flu shot, he is seriously immune compromised, and the flu shot is not a guarantee against the flu. Where the flu is an inconvenience and short-lived misery for most healthy people, it could be deadly for my husband whose disease weakens the blood vessels in his lungs.
That evening, he pulled up in the drive-way and I brought his packed bags to the van for him since he couldn’t come in the house. We chuckled a bit about what the neighbors would think of me bringing him his bags. It was the right decision because I took our daughter to the Pediatrician on Tuesday to discover she does in fact have influenza type A. That morning we received an email from her Catholic school stating that there were many cases of the flu in the school. My husband called his Rheumatologist right away in order to get on a two-week dose of Tamiflu to try to slow any progression down should he develop the flu. As I write this, my husband still can’t come home since our daughter’s fever has not broken for 24-hours.
I will admit, as he pulled out of the drive-way on Monday night, I was a bit frustrated about the situation. He just got out of the hospital a week ago and he had made it through a four-day business trip last week. Now we don’t know when he will be able to come home. Our daughter had a bad reaction to the Tamiflu and while I cleaned up vomit from our living room, bedroom, and bathroom floor, she cried out wanting her daddy to come home. I had to try to gently remind her that he cannot come home because it is too dangerous for him.
The thought crossed my mind that God is using this time to prepare me, should he die.
Relying on God
There is a certain helplessness that is inherent in these situations. It requires an acceptance on our part and a willingness to endure whatever is needed to get through difficult times. Living with a disease like my husband’s means that we have to learn to live in a place of radical trust in God and His plan. There are no answers to why this has happened. We don’t get to know why he has this disease, instead, we must learn to live with it and offer it back to God.
His disease requires major sacrifices of all of us sometimes, but more than anything, it is a slow progression in dying to self through small sacrifices. My daughter is sick and cannot snuggle with her father. That is a type of sacrifice on her part. I do not have the help and guidance of my husband navigating our daughter’s current illness or any future illnesses. He cannot be near us when we are really sick, which means that I have to take care of our daughter alone when I have the flu or any other serious illness that could harm him. I’ve had to take our sick daughter out to get her prescriptions and rely on a close friend to pick up items for me at the grocery store. I’ve spent the last three nights sleep deprived and awake in the middle of the night caring for her.
Part of the reason I haven’t gotten much sleep is because our daughter, like my husband, is a very touch oriented person. I am not. I come from a pretty reserved background, so I’m not a big touch person. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still have days when I don’t really want a lot of hugs or to be touched a lot. There are literally days when my husband’s “love is too close”, which is an expression I picked up from a friend of mine who is very similar to me in this regard.
When my daughter is sick, she wants to practically sleep on top of me; even more so right now with my husband gone. Sacrificing my own comfort and sleep so that she feels safe and secure while sick and without her father is more important than what I may want or need, even sleep. While I’ve been unable to sleep or when she’s woken me up for help, I’ve stared up at the ceiling trying to focus on prayer. There is something spiritually significant about prayer in the middle of the night. God has recently asked me to start praying and sacrificing daily for His priests, so I’ve been attempting to unite our suffering to that secondary vocation. It helps me to see the redemptive aspects of our suffering, especially in this time of crisis in the Church.
This experience is an important lesson in learning to love as Christ loves for both my daughter and me. My husband’s health is more important than our desire for him to be with us right now. We have to sacrifice our own wants and desires for his good. I have to focus on what my daughter wants and needs and try to make up for her father’s unwanted absence right now. I’m not a saint, yet. Lord willing, one day. I do all of this imperfectly and I have moments of frustration and tears. This is what we are called to, however. It is through acts of sacrifice for others that we are conformed to Christ. The more we die to self, the more we can love as He loves. The more we die to self, the more we can see as He sees.
The path to our own crucifixion of self varies from person-to-person. Not everyone is going to deal with a chronically ill husband with a rare dangerous disease. The vocation that God has given to us is where we learn how to live in this manner, whether it be married life, religious life, or the priesthood.
Circumstances arise daily within our vocation that will require us to put aside what we want in order to serve Christ and others. It is not easy, but if we rely on Christ, He will provide the grace we need to persevere and endure.