I am unapologetically a book guy, I always have been. For me books were a refuge and a comfort during a childhood that although happy wasn’t always peaches and cream. As a young adult, a city kid who moved to the mountain West, I learned a lot of the skills of that turned me into a competent outdoorsman from reading and as a new Christian in my late 20’s who had no Christian friends or relatives, along with being discipled by faithful men, I learned a lot about how to live as a Christian by reading. As I began pastoral ministry, while also leaning on mentors, I also read, especially collections of letters, to build my skill set as a shepherd. I am a book guy through and through.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, but being such a book guy I developed something of a bad habit. Sometime when someone shared a problem or struggle with me I would respond “you should read…” While this may be helpful for some, and is how I would want to be treated, it can seem aloof or disinterested to others, so I try not to do it anymore.
But let me tell you about a book you should read, A Book Of Comfort for Those In Sickness by P.B. Power. It’s not a new book, in fact it is over 100 years old, originally published as The Sick Man’s Comfort Book in 1876. But it was written by man who knew what he was talking about.
Power was born in 1822 in Waterford Ireland, after studying at Trinity College in Dublin, he was ordained in the Church of England. Following his ordination he emigrated to England and began a career as a clergyman. After 2 years in Leicester, he was dispatched to London where he served 2 years at Holloway in Islington and then 7 years at Woburn Chapel. Leaving London he settled in Christ Church on the southern coast of England where he served as vicar for 10 years. It was in Christ Church where he was struck down, at the age of 43 his health forced him to retire. Although the exact nature of his ailment seems to have been lost to history, from 1865 on he is described as an invalid. Whatever his ailment was, it prevented him from ministering or even caring for himself.
He writes not as someone who has never experienced suffering and illness in a profound way, but as someone who knew it well; He was the Joni Eareckson Tada of the 19th century. Not in fame, but in experience of suffering, and that experience matters.
My wife Cassandra is chronically ill, and one of her primary symptoms is chronic, severe, neurogenic pain. That means that her central nervous system sends pain signals to her brain without any reason and at times her brain interprets what should be a pleasant or at least neutral sensation as painful. Practically that means she sometimes feels like she is being burned all over or sometimes a cotton shirt moving as she wears it can feel like sand paper being rubbed on an open wound.
And having gone through this trial along with her, and being a book guy, I can say with absolute confidence that many well intended and theologically sound authors who write on suffering and illness, just don’t get it. And I’m genuinely glad they don’t, because that means they haven’t experienced it. They share true things, but something in their writing is lacking.
One of the most comforting statements in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
While there is no reason to believe that Jesus had any kind of chronic pain or illness, He undoubtedly knew intense physical pain and suffering as He was scourged and crucified. He knew pain and suffering so He can sympathize with those in pain.
Power knew pain, and sickness, and suffering and he writes as one with empathy. And he writes with great theological depth and as one who makes his theology work for him. In this short little book (it is a small format paperback of less than 100 pages), in addition to what you might find in other books on illness and suffering, he covers topics that only someone who has walked through the deep valley of illness would even think to include. Some Chapter titles include:
A Comfort as to Our Being Useless
A Comfort to Counter Envious Thoughts About Others
A Comfort in Our Being a Trouble to Others
The reality is, unless you die suddenly and unexpectedly, you will experience at least one severe illness. And odds are that at some point you will be the primary caregiver for someone who is experiencing a severe illness. Before you find yourself in one of those situations, or especially if you are in one of those situations now, you need to read this book.
A Book of Comfort for Those In Sickness by P.B. Power. Banner of Truth Trust revised edition 2018. 97 Pages.