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The Spirit Rejoices, Though the Body Is Weak

by Erica DiBella, City Church Elder

My mother died this past summer after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. Almost forty years ago, her diagnosis began a great struggle for me in my faith journey. I remember fervently praying as a young child for the Lord to heal my mother of her disease. It was my almost daily prayer then. I recall that, as the years passed and my mother’s disease slowly progressed, I vacillated between anger and hope. 

As a teenager, I felt pangs of guilt when I forgot to pray for my mother, as if my lack of prayer somehow contributed to my mother’s disease. Maybe my mother wasn’t getting better because I didn’t have enough faith? What does one do with unanswered prayer? My response as I moved into adulthood was to give up on praying about my mother’s disease. I couldn’t reconcile the idea of praying with faith as those who have hope, with praying for something that seemed to be immutable. 

Yet my mother’s response to all of this was largely gratitude. While she had many moments of frustration, fear, and regret, she continually clung to the goodness of God and saw, instead of a broken body, a woman who had been given the richest of gifts in Jesus. 

Mary’s words in the Magnificat reflect my mother’s lived experience: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). This otherworldly response shone in the way my mother treated others. Everyone who knew her said that she was one of the kindest people they’d ever known. How could I not be moved witnessing my mother’s kindness despite the difficulties of living with a chronic disease? Indeed, her last few months of life were a testimony to the power of God’s love. Though confined to her bed, unable to move more than one arm and her head, my mother smiled, laughed, told me and the rest of the family that she loved us, and continually worried that we were all doing too much when we helped her. 

In her final weeks, when it was so very difficult for her physically and cognitively to communicate with us, and her mind wandered, and we weren’t even sure that she recognized us, I’ll never forget how reading scripture to her or even talking about God would elicit an “Amen” from my mother. It was as if her whole being was attuned to what is true. After my visits with her, rather than feeling depressed or weighed down, I felt a lightness, a freedom that comes from experiencing love. 

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” How can this be? I wonder if, when stripped of everything, my mother clung to a truth that never fails—the love of God for his children—and that witnessing this love in action affected those who were with her. I know that in those moments with her, there was nothing I could bring, no words I could pray that would change her situation and make her well; but I did learn to cling, as my mother did, to the truth of God’s love for us.

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