I have an incurable genetic disorder. I have Celiac Disease. There’s nothing I can do about it; I was born this way. I inherited it from distant ancestors, who in their turn inherited it from their own ancestors. Those who suffer from this disease cannot tolerate any gluten whatsoever. The tiniest, microscopic crumb of wheat flour or barley can make me seriously ill. And so the solution is simple: avoid ingesting gluten. But in a gluten-saturated world, this is well-nigh impossible. The simple rule–avoid gluten–isn’t enough. It is so far from being enough, it is absolutely useless.
My doctor’s solution to this problem was to give me a long list of rules I have to follow in order to help keep well. These rules are exacting and complicate my life, but it is important for me to follow them to the letter. Not only must I avoid eating foods with gluten in them; I must avoid foods that have been prepared in the same area as foods that contain gluten. When I am teaching young children, I must not only avoid touching their crackers or cookies at snack time; I must avoid touching anything the kids have touched with their crummy fingers after snack time. I must wash my hands a thousand times a day in case I have at some time touched something that someone else touched with gluten-contaminated hands. I must have my own toaster and bread maker, my own peanut butter jar and tub of butter, kept separate from those that the others in my home use. And on and on.
This is an imperfect solution because it is so impossible to keep all the rules perfectly. I must be constantly aware of what I am doing at all times, constantly vigilant. Lapses in attention can result in serious consequences. Even if I myself manage to keep all of the rules, other people may not. Whether through carelessness or forgetfulness, people may serve me food that has been contaminated, or use the peanut butter that I had been keeping clean and not tell me, or any number of other accidental offenses. The rules are good and necessary, but they are not enough. How do I deal with that? How can I deal with such a difficult disease?
Well, I could rebel. After all, I didn’t ask to have this disease. Why should I have to live by these stringent, unreasonable rules? It isn’t fair. I should be able to eat anything I want! I could live this way. But I would be sick all the time, and it would eventually kill me. It would hurt those around me, as well, as the people who love me watch me destroy myself with my stubborn rebellion.
I could live in denial. I could tell myself that I don’t have this disease. I could choose to believe that the doctor is mistaken. I could choose to believe that I can eat what I want and won’t get sick. Unfortunately, this won’t work either. I will get sick anyway, because denying the truth does nothing to negate the truth and believing lies won’t make the lies come true.
I could try to follow the rules to the letter, but live this way in bitterness and resentment, railing against the unfairness of it all. What a horrible way to live! How miserable I would be, and how miserable I would make everyone else around me.
Or, I could try to follow the rules with a good spirit, making the best of things and forgiving myself when I mess up, and forgiving those around me who accidentally make me sick. That seems like the best thing I could do. This seems the best way to live my life.
The doctor tells me there is no cure for my disease, except one. When I die, I will finally be cured; my disease will never trouble me again. Unfortunately, I will then be dead and unable to enjoy my Celiac-free state. If only I could die and yet still live in a new, disease-less body. Or if only someone would die my death for me, releasing me from this disease forever, and give me a new life of freedom. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?