When the Body Attacks Itself

So I haven’t written in awhile. As many of you know, our beautiful five-year old daughter Aiden was recently hospitalized for ten days with a mysterious condition, and we’ve spent a significant amount of time since then working with our medical team to determine what’s happening and how to best treat it. She’s much better now, and we’re so grateful for all the prayer, encouragement and support we’ve received.

We’re re-emerging and, as my first post back, I wanted to offer a few reflections coming through this experience on the life of the Church.

Anti-Bodies and Bodies

So, auto-immune: this is basically a fancy word for the body attacking itself, and what our medical team believes our daughter was experiencing. The theory goes: something’s in her system that her body doesn’t like, so her body begins producing anti-bodies to attack this thing. The anti-bodies build up and don’t have anywhere to go, so they enter the blood stream and go to your brain. The attack leads to inflammation of the brain, which causes psychosis.

A psychotic breakdown from the body attacking itself.

Which has had me thinking: what happens when the body of Christ attacks itself? One doesn’t have to look far on the internet to find anyone and everyone railing on the Church for its warts and shortcomings–it’s probably the quickest and easiest way to build a platform these days.

Of course we should have perspectives and communicate with one another, but what happens:

  • When our opinions become arrows?
  • When our arguments become ammunition?
  • When our goal becomes to tear the body down rather than to build it up?

What happens when the body attacks itself?

We go crazy.

Who Hates Their Body?

One often hears today, “I like Jesus but not the church.” But is this even possible? To be bound up in union with Jesus is, by its very nature, to be united with the life of his people. On Easter Sunday this week we celebrated baptisms, and to be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection is to die to one’s self and be raised into the body of his people.

We are a body, the gospel tells us. And not just any body, but the body of Jesus: united to him as our head and, in & through him, bound to one another. The apostle Paul reminds us that “we are members of [Jesus’] body,” with the implication:

No one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the Church. (Ephesians 5:29)

What does it look like to care for the social body of Jesus? One of the things we were struck by during our daughter’s crisis was how our church community responded:

  • People dropped everything to come to the hospital and pray and cry and sit with us
  • Overnight, friends organized a month of meals delivered to our house
  • Families took our other kids for playdates so we could be at the hospital together with her
  • Pre-schoolers colored get well cards sent with flowers and teddy bears
  • Friends in the medical field helped us research and give second opinions at crucial moments

We’ve never felt so wrapped around, so supported, so . . . together.

I’m overwhelmed right now thinking about it. We love our daughter to death and this was one of the scariest times in our family’s life: the fear and the unknowns, not knowing what was happening, what caused it or whether it was permanent. To have our community surround us during this darkest hour with so much grace and presence was beyond what we could have anticipated; we’re so grateful.

We have a strong conviction coming out of this that, when crisis hits, we want to be pro-bodies rather than anti-bodies, those whose default posture as a family is to build the body of Christ up rather than to tear it down.

We want to love Jesus by caring for his people.

How We Respond to Crisis

In times of crisis, our posture is probably most clearly seen. The week before our daughter’s breakdown, she had the flu–the doctors believe her system was responding to the virus, the crisis in her body. Isn’t this the way it also goes in community? When we perceive a crisis coming, we get more critical. Our anxiety kicks in. Our complaining goes into hyper-drive. “This is going to derail the future of the church!” we tell ourselves.

We’re more prone to respond like anti-bodies, attacking those we distrust or disagree with to get our way.

Being pro-bodies doesn’t mean we ignore problems, but it means we put the health of the community before our own comfort or agenda. It doesn’t mean we don’t have personal opinions, but it means we hold our convictions with discernment towards the flourishing of the whole, rather than wielding them as weapons for the exaltation of ourselves.

When our body attacks itself, when anxious Christians rise up to tear at the Church, I believe there’s a better way. Lifting up and caring for Jesus’ people rather than using them as a foil for exalting ourselves. Fighting the craziness by embodying wholeness. Giving up being anti-bodies and becoming pro-bodies . . .

Who exalt Jesus by caring for his body.

Author: "The Skeletons in God's Closet." Pastor: Imago Dei Community. Husband, Father, Foster Parent.

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