Revealing to have Parkinson's, Christian author Philip Yancey shares a heartbreaking testimony of faith


Former contributor to Christianity Today, the American writer Philip Yancey chose the columns of the magazine to reveal that he has Parkinson's disease. The Christian author publishes a plea in favor of the sick or handicapped in which it is also a question of his faith. 

It is a delicate and modest text that Yancey wrote, entitled "Parkinson's—The Gift I Didn't Want" (Parkinson - The gift I did not want). A title that can be read as a nod to that of one of his most famous books, "The Jesus I Never Knew" ("This Jesus that I didn't know", Éditions Farel). The author reveals his illness and the way in which it fits into his faith and his relationships with others.

From the outset, Yancey recalls the story of his older brother, Marshall, "endowed with an exceptional IQ and supernatural musical gifts", whose life was shattered by a stroke in 2009. This brother in the shadows which he had grown up needed a year to relearn how to walk and more to pronounce sentences of a few words.

This ordeal allowed the cadet to understand the challenges of disability. In predictive lines as to his own fate, he underlines the sufferings of this brother suddenly reduced to the most visible fragility:

"The vexation of being unable to bring out words. The indignity of needing help with simple activities such as showering and dressing. The paranoia of thinking that friends were making decisions without his knowledge ."

Because it is a question of the relationship to others, in dependence and in their gaze.

From now on, the writer knows like his brother the impossibility of obtaining an adequate response from its members. While skiing a year ago in Colorado his legs failed. Over the next few months his gait and posture changed, his handwriting became sloppy, but his doctor assured him it couldn't be Parkinson's. When those around him noticed his slowness, he knew he had to consult again. The verdict fell last month.

Prayer Against Shame

Yancey, who has seen others judge his brother by his physical condition, is tempted to say, "I've remained the same person on the inside, so please don't judge me by external criteria like slowness, stumbling and occasional shaking." The author writes that he does not want to let this disease define him and mentions Psalm 71:

"Lord! I seek my refuge in you: may I never be confounded!"

Noting that the psalmist wrote this verse in circumstances different from his own, Yancey retains the prayer never to be "shamed" present in this psalm: "There is a shame in seeing well-meaning friends overreacting - some can treat you like a fragile antique and complete your sentences when you stop for a second to think about a word."

After writing "Where Is God When It Hurts?" (Where is God when I suffer?), Yancey had received letters of thanks from people marked by suffering, some of whom wondered if God was unjust. He responded with the book "Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud" in which he expressed his trust in God.

While he imagines with shame the evolution of the symptoms ("drooling, memory lapses, slurred speech, trembling hands"), he trusts the continuation of Psalm 71: "Do not reject me in the time of old age; when my strength fails, do not abandon me!" A prayer which, according to him, "expresses the silent plea of ​​all people with disabilities".

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Creative Commons / Wikimedia 

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