I’m sure that very few people would think that colds, the flu and other related winter illnesses have anything to do with church, theology, or following Jesus. But since these things so often and so profoundly affect many of our people, it does have something to do with serving the Lord. Some believe that they build a cocoon of faith around themselves and ward off anything that is going to come and affect them physically, but on the other hand, sometimes they catch something and the infection they have gets through the barrier to affect other folks. I just have to believe and know that sometimes God’s protective hand is upon my life and so many of yours, but then I find I come down with some fever or choking cough. I would prefer to keep it to myself and others would appreciate if I would keep it also. Since we have some weather and weariness to go through before we get to the beautiful days of spring, let me encourage you to think about how we approach these sickness issues.
It’s early 2015 and the flu epidemic has hit our nation hard. One of the states included as having a serious outbreak of the flu is Mississippi, though in fact nearly the whole nation is being affected. I have just had a conversation today with several pastors who were telling me about how many scores of people in their church were out the previous Sunday because of the flu. I’ve known of several pastors themselves who could not attend church and preach because they were so sick. One pastor and his wife and their children, all, were down with the flu. While the health experts encourage everybody to get a flu shot, this year they turned around and said that if you got it, it may not help because the shot is not a good match for the strain of flu that’s affecting so many people. Some hospitals across the nation were unable to take any more patients because they are filled with people who are extremely sick with the flu. And it’s not as though the flu is some insignificant sniffle, for the numbers continue to mount as hundreds of people young and old are dying from the flu outbreak. I have known of very few times through the years that churches or schools or businesses ever closed because of the flu outbreak, but it is certainly a serious and sobering quandary with which to deal. So, if you took the shot and it is not particularly effective and you have responsibilities at work or at school or at church, what do you do? I’m not much of a germaphobe, but I do realize that it’s almost impossible to run and hide from germs and especially the flu bug. You will find it probably everywhere you go – to the store, the gas station, school, work, a ballgame, a family gathering, or, of course, church.
Now the church has its own set of problems when it comes to the spread of these kind of diseases because we are so welcoming and socially engaging that it’s almost a sin not to shake hands or to hug somebody’s neck or to engage them with warm, up close, friendly conversation. We don’t greet the brethren with a holy kiss much but we shake hands, share pot luck snacks, come and participate in a close fellowship even though we may be contagious. We hold hands as we pray and sneeze and are sneezed upon. To add to this dilemma are the wonderful people who are around us who may have compromised or lowered immune systems, maybe because of some treatment that they are taking or a health issue that they are battling. Maybe it’s their age and being old or real young that put them in a critical group, but you may not have any idea who these people are because very few people wear a neon sign around their neck saying, “I have a compromised immune system.” It’s just a dilemma.
I was preaching at a church during this flu season and a couple that I had known many years ago came to the service though the wife was real sick. Before the service began, she and her husband came up to me and she hugged me and then said, “I sure don’t want to spread any germs around but I was not going to miss being here today and hear you preach.” What do you do? I thanked her for coming and assumed that her illness was affecting her brain. So what in the world can you do? Clearly, there are no simple solutions to get around illness or exposing others to illness. It is impossible to stop all of the activities and close all of the shops and stores and lock up the churches and dismiss the schools. It’s not going to happen, but some common sense can be applied that might be helpful. Let me give you three words that might be helpful.
The first thing you can do is to pray. God does care about our sicknesses and our wellness and I am confident that there are times when the only way I have been spared many of the illnesses going around is that God Himself has protected me. Have I ever been sick? Yes. Have I ever had the flu? Yes. But many more times, I have been amazed at having been exposed to so much sickness at churches and funerals, weddings and special events, hospitals and nursing homes, that God has literally protected me from getting sick and kept me going. I’m not talking about using prayer as the emergency room procedure, but more to stay open before God asking Him to give you wisdom for life and insights into what to avoid.
The second thing you can do is to stay. It is far better for one person to just stay at home from work or from church or from a public event rather than getting up and going in your sick condition and cause 15-30 others to have to miss because of you.
The third thing is to say. If you are sick and around someone, just say, “I don’t think you need to get close to me because I’ve been battling whatever has been going around.” Or maybe it would be good to say that I’m not going to be at the meeting, I’m not going to be at some gathering, simply because I’m afraid that I might give someone what I’ve got and what I’ve got I don’t want them to have. Speak up and say I don’t want you to get what I’ve had or I don’t want to get what you have had. You can be a blessing by seeing folks and you can be a blessing by staying away from folks, so just say, “I’ll keep my distance.”
This flu season will pass, spring will arrive, things will be better. I just don’t want you to pass before the seasons pass.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.