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The Body of Christ

by Liz Tolsma


My daughter’s first sentence was, “I do it.” She was always Miss Independent. Like Herbie and Rudolph from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” when they meet in the snow, both running away from the world. In-de-pen-dent.


My husband and I are proud of our self-sufficient children. By the time they were teens, they knew how to cook, how to clean, and how to mow the lawn. In its proper place, independence is good. The Bible even commands it. “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12).


That’s how we live our lives. We do for ourselves. We take care of our own, most of the time without help. Even though we have a moderately disabled twenty-one-year-old.


Then in 2013, I got cancer. Within weeks, my life was turned upside down, and I was facing challenges I wasn’t ready for. Is anyone? Two surgeries. Endless doctor appointments. Radiation therapy. At the beginning, my husband and I discussed how to confront this disease as a family. We didn’t need anyone to bring meals. My husband and daughter are more-than-capable cooks. We didn’t need help cleaning. They scrub as well as they bake.


It would be us against the world.

The first few weeks of radiation were no big deal. There was no difference in the way I looked or in the way I acted. What was all the hoopla about side effects? If I powered through, I could conquer them. Side effects, watch out. I was coming to get them.


And then I hit the wall. Also known as the third week of radiation. The fatigue was overwhelming. By the time I showered and got dressed in the morning, I was ready to go back to bed. Daily chores became unmanageable. Feeding my family became an afterthought. If I could clear my head to think at all.


Then a dear friend brought me dinner. I told her we didn’t need it. We were going to do this on our own, remember? She didn’t cave in and brought the meal. It was good. I didn’t have to cook. I didn’t have to grocery shop.


The discussion my husband and I had that night was a turn around from the one a few weeks before. We decided to ask our church family to bring us two meals a week.


And somewhere along the way, I learned that independence has its limits. There are times believers need the body of Christ. It was hard to depend on other people, to ask for help. But the rewards were sweet.


It’s about more than the food. It’s about the body of Christ—one part aiding another part that is injured. When your right hand is broken, you depend on the left. When your eyes fail, you depend on your ears. When you tear your ACL, you lean more on the uninjured leg.


For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:12, 21, 26).


And that is how God created us. He instills in us the need of others. In the garden of Eden, before the fall, he said that man needed a helper to walk through life beside him. And so, Eve and marriage came about—the first human relationship, built on collaboration. I had to depend on my husband for so much during this trial. It wasn’t easy to sit back and watch him do my chores. Even though my body said no, I wanted to jump in and help. My dear friend cooked for me and pampered me one weekend. More than once, she had to shoo me out of my kitchen.


Yet through those dark waters, I learned of the beauty of the body of Christ. Each member supported me with abundant food, prayers lifted before the throne, cards of encouragement, hugs, quiet whispers of support. I don’t know what I would have done without them. God was caring for me through them.


God commands us to rely on each other. “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Going it alone is not part of His plan. Even the apostle Paul, who was so careful not to burden the fledgling churches, spoke of many who were helpers with him in the Lord’s work.


In “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” while sitting in the snow under a Christmas tree, Rudolph and Herbie strike a deal to be independent together.


And so, as I reclined on my couch, my daughter made blueberry jam and learned how to bear the burdens of her brothers and sisters in Christ. And I learned how the body cared for me. It’s a beautiful thing.


Liz Tolsma is the author of several WWII novels and romantic suspense novels. She is a speaker, editor, and podcaster and lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their youngest daughter. Her son, daughter-in-law, and oldest daughter are U.S. Marines.


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