The last few weeks have been rather strange ones for me. A tumble down the stairs whilst on holiday (note to self: rushing down a polished wooden staircase wearing a onesie with fleecy feet is not a good idea) resulted in what was thought to be a rather painful broken toe. At a routine follow-up appointment a flustered registrar informed me that it wasn’t actually broken, but there was a growth in the bone. They thought it was probably benign, but weren’t sure. I was dispatched to the MRI department with a green slip of paper requesting an appointment, which reassuringly contained the words ‘Benign?? Malignant?? ***URGENT***’ !!! The scan was arranged with impressive speed, and then I had a 10-day wait for the results.
And that was what I found tricky. A little knowledge is very definitely a dangerous thing, and I inevitably extrapolated from animals (I’m a vet by profession) to people. Bone tumours in dogs and cats are generally bad news. Dr Google informed me that bone tumours in humans are not usually anything to worry about, but I guess that message didn’t quite get through to my subconscious. Rationally, I knew the probability was that all would be well. I knew that God was with me no matter what, and could and would use my circumstances for His glory if I allowed him to, whatever those circumstances were. I was still reading my Bible, still praying, still just about keeping everything ticking over at home and work but that was about it. I am used to tackling life with enthusiasm and driving things forward, being proactive; now I was only doing what really needed to be done, and struggling even to do that.
And that’s where my friends came in.
I can often find it difficult to ask for help, but this time my hand was somewhat forced. I was unable to walk the children to school the first two weeks after my tumble as I couldn’t put any weight on my foot, so two lovely friends stepped in to walk them there and back for me. People kept kindly enquiring after my broken toe and so I told them what was going on. I was overwhelmed by people’s response. Words of support and offers of help at the school gate. Text messages reassuring me of people’s prayers. Bible verses offering encouragement and reassurance.
As so often is the case, my daily Bible reading seemed very topical and timely. Having worked through the book of Colossians, I had come to the final verses:
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
I found it striking the amount of time and space Paul devotes in this letter to personal greetings and news of his friends. We often associate Paul with dense and weighty theology, or view him as a lone visionary and evangelist and think of his ministry and mission as being a one-man affair. But more down-to-earth sections like this one from Colossians remind us how far from the truth this picture is. Paul was very much a team player. Yes, he was the one with the apostolic calling and often the one with the vision, but he makes it clear time and time again that he could not do it alone. He had a close relationship with God, but needed the support and encouragement of his friends as he journeyed through life.
And if that was true for Paul, one of the most influential people of all time, responsible for the spread of the Christian gospel out of the Middle East and into Europe and Asia, how much more is it true for all of us? For me?
We are not designed to live in isolation, as individual islands as the river of life flows around us. We are designed to live in community, in relationship with one another. To laugh with each other, cry with each other, love and support one another in good times and bad. These kinds of relationships require a degree of vulnerability that some of us find more difficult than others, but are essential to our wellbeing.
I found out on Monday that the lesion is indeed a benign one, and so nothing to worry about. A weight has been lifted from my mind that I wasn’t even aware I was carrying. Looking back I can see that the last few weeks have taught me many valuable lessons. That in all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That I can’t always do it on my own, and that I shouldn’t be trying to. That the good health usually enjoyed by me and my family is something to be extremely thankful for, and not taken for granted. And most of all, that I am blessed with many wonderful friends. If any of you are reading this, know that I am thanking God for your presence in my life.