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What Suffering Taught Me About Generosity

4 min

I was diagnosed, at 16, with neurofibromatosis Type 2, a condition which causes tumours to grow on nerves anywhere in my body. My 17th birthday was spent on a life-support machine in Intensive Care, following brain surgery. Subsequent prolific surgeries over the years have left me, among other things, deaf; unable to walk without limping, crutches and fatigue; with one side of my face paralysed; vision impaired.

In the early days – and not so early – I’d look at my life and wonder, who is this person,

masquerading as me? And why aren’t they letting the me inside out, the me who can run and make music and smile and hear?

And then, one day, as I was lying on a bed being wheeled to theatre, asking God to let me die, he told me to let go. Let go of the future I planned but would never be – my old hopes and dreams for my life – and, in doing so, reach for the future he knows.

‘…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…’ (Hebrews 12:1)

In a relay race, if one person runs the entire distance, the team will not win. Part of the race is about passing the baton on. As surgeries erode my abilities, hopes and aspirations, I have learned – and am learning – to let each ‘me’ be part of my race. To be generous enough to myself to pass the baton on to where I am. “You, who used to run cross-country, managed to take two steps? Well done.”

I have found a God who is with me where I am. When where I am is the last place I’d choose to be, he says, because it’s where you are, it’s where I choose to be. Such generosity overwhelms me. That he would look at the mess that is often my life, roll up his sleeves and wade through the pain and tears and struggles with me.

I have also discovered that there is generosity in receiving.

When I woke up after the surgery which took all my hearing, I was terrified by silence. Silence which, like a transparent wall, cut me off from the world, preventing the sounds that I could see were there from reaching me. Everyone but me on the opposite side of the wall.

My side was not nice, and so I decided that no one else need be affected by it. God and I were on my side, everyone else could just get on with their happy, hearing, healthy lives. God – I now realise – was patiently waiting for me to see the verse he wanted to show me.

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35)

And finally, it dawned on me. By refusing to receive, I was denying others the ‘more-blessing’ of giving. The realisation stopped me in my tracks.  

Did I want to be someone who stopped others from being blessed?

No.

Could I believe that other people would be blessed by giving to me?

No.

But do I believe that Scripture is true?

Yes.

What if, next time someone offered me a lift, or to carry my bag, or whatever it may be, I squashed the, “It’s ok thank you, I’m fine,” (for ‘fine’, read ‘struggling’) already on my lips before they got their words out, and swapped it for, “That would be lovely, thank you.”

I began, more and more, to see that it’s true: people are blessed when they give. When I thank them for giving to me, very often they reply, “It’s my pleasure” and, as I look in their eyes, I see sincerity and I see joy.

By choosing to receive, we open a door of opportunity for others to give. Because we open that door, others are blessed through their giving. And so, we, the receivers, become givers. We, too, are ‘more-blessed’. And the wheel of generosity continues to turn.

I have learned that being generous to myself means trusting myself to God.

‘Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey’.

I wholeheartedly sang these lyrics frequently as I grew up. I trusted God when my days were happy and harmonious.

He is God, I’m not. I don’t know the rules. I don’t know when tumours and hospitals and disability will strike. I don’t know very much, really, but, as I fix my eyes on God in my unknowing, I’m reminded that I know the One who knows.

Ironically, my catchphrase in life, from very small, has been “What’s the plan?” I like to know what’s happening. But I am learning to recognise the generosity of a God who says, “You don’t need to know the plan yet, but I promise I’ll meet you there when you do.”

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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