Without going into the amount of detail that I’m sure my regular visitors are tired of reading, sometimes my Crohn’s causes pain and nausea, both of which often manifest in a grimace. Often that expression includes an unfocused stare, which is a reliable sign that the only thing I can focus on for the time being is not throwing up.
When I’m wearing that unfortunate face, people with the best intentions in the world will ask with both care and disapproval in their voices a question that I am altogether tired of hearing:
So, what did you eat?
Because if my immune system is attacking the link between my small and large intestine and causing a disease that has ballooned in the developing world for reasons we can’t understand, it must be because I ate the frosting on that cupcake.
I watch what I eat as part of my overall health. I get enough sleep to avoid crankiness and the other social costs of exhaustion. I get my work done early to avoid silly mistakes. In short, I believe in personal responsibility, and I believe I can make my own life easier.
But I’m finished taking the blame for it when my best efforts fail. There are a few benefits to taking the blame that I have to leave behind as well. So why do we blame ourselves?
If it’s our fault, we have the power to fix it.
If I don’t eat paprika, I won’t be sick anymore. If I lose 30 pounds he won’t leave me. If I schedule family dinner every night my kid won’t have a drug problem.
I have spent the last few years of struggling with my illness and the stress of a long-distance relationship becoming an expert in just this sort of magical thinking.
We won’t have to blame someone we love – or blame God.
The most charitable interpretation of this phenomenon is that we love someone too much to blame them for their own behavior, so we take on the culpability because it’s easier than the messy emotional work of holding them accountable.
When we’re not talking about human relationships, when we’re talking about illness, or long unemployment, or more nebulous trying times, there often really isn’t another person to blame.
Intellectually, and even spiritually, I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen. But viscerally my whole existence yearns for bad luck be someone’s fault, for the narrative of my trials to be kicked off by someone deciding it was time for my life to be more challenging.
As I’ve wrestled with God, shouting at unfairness and pouting because miracles are not forthcoming, I’ve had the added frustration of knowing how foolish I am being. It’s all grace, it’s all blessing, all the way down, and God loves me, and I know these things.
All the while God has simply responded “thank you for inviting me into this“. God can take it.
It’s a tricky tension, knowing that we can improve our lives, but that sometimes our best efforts don’t get us very far. Knowing that God loves us, but sometimes life hurts us. Taking the blame for our griefs onto ourselves feels easier in the short term, but in time our hearts will learn it’s untrue.
Can we do our best to be well, but not beat ourselves up when we’re not?