Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Side Effects: Which Kind Do You Want?

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23

Have you ever watched a movie and something about it just stayed with you? For me, it was the TV docudrama The Ann Jillian Story, which portrays the actress Ann Jillian’s life and battle with breast cancer. Even though it aired over 25 years ago, I can still remember it clearly. Beautiful actress beats cancer, but in order to do so, loses her hair and becomes violently ill every day, almost to the point of death. My overall impression? Chemotherapy, no thank you! I decided then and there, that unless I got cancer when I was exceptionally young and had an exceptionally high chance of success with chemo, with no other options available, I was never going to experience what Ann Jillian did. No way, no how. My mother had beaten lung cancer with surgery, and even though it was risky and her recovery was long and hard, it was nothing (at least to me, looking on the surface) compared to the pain and agony created by the side effects of the chemo drugs.

Most of the time, when we think of “side effects,” we think of physical side effects, usually from medications. Those are the kind of side effects that made me shudder as I watched the Ann Jillian Story, and I have experienced my own share of those recently, when I was prescribed various drugs for different symptoms. I know plenty of people who take meds for their illnesses and can tolerate the side effects, but I also know others who can’t and choose to find alternative, homeopathic treatments. I’ve noticed on some of the medications I’ve been prescribed recently, there is specific wording that says, “Your doctor has determined that the benefits of taking this medication outweigh the potential side effects.” Yes, that’s the key, isn’t it? When Ann Jillian looked at her options for treating her breast cancer, I’m sure she considered the side effects of the chemo. For her, faced with life or death, the answer to the question, “Are they worth it??” was an easy “yes.” For others, who are dealing with other illnesses, which may be serious and even painful, but aren’t life threatening, the answer might require more thought, and result in a “maybe” or even “no.”

Side effects aren’t always physical, though. Sometimes they are emotional. There is no doubt that serious illness is often accompanied by some negative emotional side effects. After all, grief is involved. Shock and denial, anxiety and depression, guilt and anger: these are all normal stages of grief that are experienced prior to hope and acceptance of a “new normal.” The key is to not stay in any of the initial, negative stages too long … you have to give yourself time to process all of these feelings, acknowledging the validity of them, while not allowing yourself to get overwhelmed by them, leaving you “stuck” in despair. As for me, I find these are fluid stages and I can sometimes bounce between several, based on how my body is feeling (which dictates what activities I can or can’t do) or other external factors. Having to skip a kayaking expedition with my husband because of fatigue and pain may leave me feeling angry or depressed. But the next day, when we are at church worshipping or visiting with friends, I will bounce back to that place of acceptance and confidence in who I am and where I’m at, not giving my disease too much thought at all. And, of course, there are always those inspirational stories of people who have gone on to do pretty amazing things despite their physical limitations or illnesses. Truth be told, those stories can either make me feel hopeful about all I can do, or make my mood even worse, if the reality is that I'll never get there from where I'm at.

OK, so physical side effects are mostly negative and emotional side effects can go up and down. Are there any other side effects we need to talk about? Yes. Spiritual side effects. I don’t know if you ever noticed it before, but the body and the spirit are closely connected. In all three of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – fasting (abstaining from food) and praying are frequently done together. And one of the world’s effective holistic health programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, from which all of the other 12-step programs have evolved, defines itself as a “spiritual program” that heals alcoholism, which is medically identified as a physical disease. Millions of people have walked through the doors of AA since its founding early in the 20th century, and have not only found physical healing, but continue to experience the spiritual “side effects” of the program for many years after the cravings for alcohol disappear.

But what of these spiritual side effects? What are they and how do we experience them? Well, the first thing we have to realize is that while physical side effects are rooted in our bodies, and emotional side effects come from our minds, spiritual side effects come from the Holy Spirit, which we are given when we turn our lives and will over to the care of God through Jesus Christ. This is great news, because it means they are not determined by the condition of our bodies or our minds. We can be in the early or late stages of our illnesses and still experience the wonderful “side effects” of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, when we are trusting in God, we don’t have to be ruled by our emotions. Instead, we can experience the fruit (a.k.a. side effects) of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”(Galatians 5:22-23)

There is no doubt I have had times in my life when I was so focused on my own physical and emotional needs, I left no room for the Holy Spirit to work. I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark, and spiritually, I was! I was truly lost, and I don’t mean just before I accepted Christ as my savior. I mean during those times when I may have trusted Him for my eternal salvation, but I just wasn’t able to let go and trust Him for my daily life. Eventually, I came to a place where I realized that when the Bible said Jesus came to give us “abundant life” that meant for ME too! I finally decided that the emotional side effects of me carrying all of my burdens myself were too heavy, and that I wanted what God had to offer instead – His side effects of peace, love and joy! Since then, I have not been spared physical pain or even emotional pain. I have suffered chronic migraines, a painful divorce, and now have RA. But in the midst of it all, I have found the greatest side effect of all: love. God’s love has transformed me, so no matter what my circumstances, I can maintain a sense of peace in the midst of trials, joy in the midst of sorrowful times, and kindness even when my body is crying out in pain and my emotions want to lash out in anger. He has also brought, alongside of me, carriers of His gifts: people to love me when I felt the most unlovable. Yes, spiritual side effects are contagious!

Where are you with your side effects? No matter where you are physically or emotionally, do you long to experience the spiritual side effects of the Holy Spirit? They are easy to access, because they are there for the asking. In Philippians 4:6-7, the Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Side Effects: Which Kind Do You Want? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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