Diabetes and God

My oldest son started confirmation classes this week. Parents were invited to the first meeting so we would know the expectations for the six-month program. It was Will’s idea to take the class, and even though his friend backed out at the last minute, he still wanted to go. We are not a religious family. My husband and I got married at Grace Church where Will is getting confirmed, and we baptized all of our children there, but when Will and I walked into the church, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been inside.


The classroom was packed full of parents and kids, and I fidgeted in my seat, feeling claustrophobic as the reverend explained the confirmation process to the group. He asked us to introduce ourselves and state our religious affiliation. I hate these sorts of things. I sat in my seat, stoic faced, and practiced in my head saying: Amy Mercer, Episcopalian. Some of the parents gave too many details and I was determined to waste as little time as possible. One woman launched into a long story about how she was born into a Catholic family, but married a Lutheran, and once they had kids they became Episcopalians. I tapped my foot on the floor, impatient. Part of me wanted to say something off the wall when it was my turn, like that I was Quaker (my hippie parents actually did take me to several Quaker services when I was a child growing up in the woods of Vermont), but I didn’t want to embarrass my son.

I’m not sure why I was so annoyed with the whole meeting, but I think it had something to do with being diagnosed with a chronic illness at a young age. I remember when I was first diagnosed hearing things like: “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and wondering why God thought I could handle diabetes. I also remember hearing people (maybe my grandparents?) thanking God when I came out OK after a bad low blood sugar episode. But I was young and angry and didn’t want to thank God, I wanted to blame God. None of my friends were stuck with a stupid chronic illness, so why was I? What kind of God made me stick myself with a needle four times a day and prick my finger, and nearly fall out of bed when my blood sugar was low? What kind of God would turn my body into a battleground?

Growing up, my religious education was limited to the previously mentioned Quaker meetings, and a strange period when my dad decided he wanted to become a preacher. This was before I was diagnosed, and I resented having to get dressed up and go to the strange, dark Protestant church in our town. Dad eventually gave up on the idea of being a preacher and I no longer had to get up early on Sunday mornings and go to church with him. God receded into the background. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, God was reintroduced into my life. People brought God up in conversation as if now that I was marked by illness, God figured more prominently in my life. So I decided to make a deal with this God: If I have to live with diabetes, then you can’t give me anything else. This is all I can handle. No cancer, no heart disease, nothing, because really, I told God, you were wrong. I don’t know where you got the idea that I could handle diabetes, but I can’t.

Turned out I was the one who was wrong. I could and do handle diabetes, and I didn’t stay angry at God for very long. Eventually I matured enough to realize that everyone is dealing with some sort of challenge and that we are all asked to handle things that seem insurmountable. I also realized that people are scared of illness and they don’t know what to say to someone who is diagnosed with diabetes or cancer or heart disease so they tell stories about God because that makes them feel safe. And we all want to feel safe don’t we? I do. We all want to think that someone is looking out for us, even if we get stuck with some sort of hardship. I don’t think God has anything to do with why I got diabetes, but after visiting the church with my son I’m starting to wonder if it’s time I reintroduce God into my life. Maybe that’s what’s missing when I am feeling beaten down and frustrated by diabetes. Maybe I’ll follow my son’s lead. It’s only been one class, so we’ll see.

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