Peripheral neuropathy is a condition affecting nerves, impairing sensation. I first learned about it as my dad received chemotherapy and began to lose the feeling in his fingertips. While sometimes being numb is a good thing (you don’t want your dentist to start drilling until you’re numb) we are given nerves and sensation for a reason. Our body is connected through a vast network of nerves that not only give us the sense of touch, but also warn us through pain when something is wrong. Two years ago, while Dad was out working in the yard with my mom, he was bitten by something. Because he didn’t feel anything, he kept working. The next day his arm was swollen and discolored, and the day after that was the beginning of a several-day stay in the hospital. The doctors even told Dad that if they couldn’t stop the infection soon, they would have to remove his arm…
So what does peripheral neuropathy and my dad’s spider bite have to do with Christian faith and the church? In 1 Cor 12, Paul speaks of the church as a body, made up of individual members. One person might be a foot, another an eye, but each contributes to the health of the church by bringing a certain gift to the table. But what if the parts aren’t connected? What if the foot gets into trouble, but there is a lack of sensitivity within the church so that the rest of the body isn’t alerted to the wound suffered by one of its members? Paul goes on to say that, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26 ESV). It might be easier, for a time, to be blissfully ignorant of the pain and suffering endured by our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is only when we allow ourselves to experience the pain of others, that we can begin the process of healing. Ignoring the pain doesn’t remove the problem, it simply allows the wound to fester, and the infection to spread as that member of the body becomes more and more debilitated.
Dad came close to losing his arm, all because his peripheral neuropathy prevented him from knowing that his hand had been wounded. What vital members of the body is the church losing because we lack the ability to recognize their pain? It is a frustrating thing to see members leave, or walk away. It makes church leaders anxious whenever the crowd gets smaller. But the tragedy is not that our weekly attendance is a little bit lower; the tragedy is that we are losing an eye, an ear, a foot, or a hand. When a member walks away because the pain is too great and no one seems to notice, the body doesn’t get smaller; it loses its ability to function as well as it did previously. The church becomes near-sighted or far-sighted, hard-of-hearing, or maybe begins to walk with a limp. A healthy church is the result of healthy members, and members only stay healthy when the body is interconnected, when its members suffer together and rejoice together. Feeling each other’s pain isn’t masochistic, it’s embracing the way of Christ.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).