For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made: your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
In my teens and twenties, about the time I was going through my “body image issues” (starving, binging, and self-loathing), I had a related problem: I seemed to be perpetually sick, especially from October to April. A day or two of allergy symptoms would escalate into a full-blown cold – a nasty cold with all the symptoms, keeping me out of school for 2-3 days, followed by about a week of feeling run-down and sick-ish but going to school anyway, because “You can’t miss any more school!” followed by a week or so of feeling OK, then the cycle would start all over, with This is probably just an allergy … isn’t it?
During those years there would be times in the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the family was enviably sound asleep, while my head was pounding with sinus pressure, sore nose throbbing, throat burning. I would lie in the dark, thinking, If this is the way my life is going to be from now on, I think I’d rather not …
Somewhere in my twenties or early thirties I became more and more aware of this thing called an immune system, and I did all the research I could to see if there was any way I could help mine. Of course my eating disorder had been steadily taking its toll on my health (Gee, ya think??), and the biggest step towards good health was when God graciously delivered me from that personal demon. (I still plan to write about that journey in more detail in a future piece.) Over the years I learned about balanced nutrition (No, the crash diets weren’t cutting it.), the right supplements (No, Vitamin C wasn’t the “magic bullet.” I needed more.), the importance of sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and staying hydrated. Thankfully I had never taken up smoking, loving singing the way I did, and I wasn’t a drinker, for fear I’d be even more out of control than I already was. But I still had to learn to make better choices than junk food, avoid sugar, and choose water over diet soft drinks.
In spite of needing regular allergy shots and sinus surgery, my health did improve over the years, and in the fall of 2019 I seemed to have found the final “missing piece” – probiotics. I sheepishly told my doctor I had bought into an infomercial for a probiotic that said 70% of the immune system is in the gut, and to my surprise, she said, “Oh, that’s true.” (confirming the connection with the eating disorder) With that revelation I started taking the probiotic first thing in the morning, along with practicing the other healthy lifestyle choices, and for the first time in six decades, I went a whole year without a single cold or sinus infection!
The first thing to hit me in 2020 was Covid, which I came down with in late November. Although it brought back some unpleasant memories, it wasn’t horrible (unlike all the viruses I got as a young person) and lasted just a few days. I did quarantine for two weeks, and although Thanksgiving Day I couldn’t smell or taste anything, my husband, who also had Covid, didn’t feel like eating anyway. So, instead of cooking all day, I relaxed with him and spent Thanksgiving … well … giving thanks. (I think that’s the point anyway, right?)
So why am I telling you all this? Because the CDC isn’t exactly highlighting this kind of information. For the past year all we’ve heard is wear-a-mask!-stay-home!-wash-your-hands!-socially-distance! … ad nauseum. We’ve been terrorized by the nightly news with daily stats on new cases and deaths, but not the 45 million Americans that have had the virus and recovered. Ironically, fear, stress, rage, and the related loss of sleep has a devastating effect on the immune system.
One day just out of curiosity I visited the CDC website and did a search for “Maintaining a Healthy Immune System.” My search turned up 350 results, all articles with the words “maintaining” (about maintaining social distance), “immune” (about vaccines), or “system” (as in “health care system”). I found nothing about keeping our bodies strong enough to fight off disease. Later my son told me to try “maintaining a healthy immune + system.” I tried a few searches adding a “+” and found there were thousands of articles. With some digging I was able to find mention of healthy eating, sleep, etc. But as far as Covid, avoidance was definitely front and center. I have yet to hear on the news about any proactive steps we can take to strengthen our resistance naturally. Just fear-fear-FEAR.
Am I saying we don’t need to do anything to avoid viruses? Not at all. This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Sure, wash your hands (Are there really people who don’t?) and use hand sanitizer. Cough into your sleeve, and stay home if you’re sick. (In other words, practice common courtesy -and common sense!) Avoid crowds if you get sick easily, and – my personal flu season recommendation – carry your own pen. (Make it a cheap one, so if anyone asks to borrow it you can tell them to keep it.) Just know that viruses are the tiniest living things known to man, and they’re virtually everywhere. This is why our loving Creator built a system of defense into our bodies.
It’s not that we have to choose between minimizing exposure to illnesses and arming ourselves against them. Why not do both? Our bodies are gifts from God, but we are stewards of those gifts. He has made us partners with Him, and I believe He wants us to be responsible for what we can do to stay healthy and strong, while He takes care of the rest – the things that are out of our control.
As for “divine perspective,” there is a spiritual parallel to this, which I’ll deal with next time.
Prayer: Lord, we know it was Your creative genius that formed our bodies. While we don’t take a single breath without Your enabling us, You have called us to care for Your creation, including ourselves. We want to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, set apart for Your service. Show us how to keep these vessels strong, healthy, and able to serve You for as long as You would have us on this earth, in Jesus’ name. Amen.