Itching For Jesus? (My Painful Reaction to Poison Oak)

Recently I was trail running in the hills during a private retreat at the Prince of Peace monastery. It was a beautiful day and I felt so alive and free as I was running with Jesus. Little did I know that I had brushed up against poison oak! A few days later the urushiol oil caused me to start breaking out with the most painful allergic rash all over my body! 

It’s the worst at night. Laying on my bed I feel awful itching. Being still brings the itchiness into focus. I get bouts of itching attacks where I can’t resist scratching till I bleed. It’s pure misery! This is the case even though I’m on the strongest medicines that my doctor could prescribe.

I Teach Meditation But is it Working For Me?

This has been a harsh test for me. I teach meditation on Scripture to pastors and all kinds of servants of the Lord to facilitate their intimacy with Jesus, soul rest, and love for others. For many years I’ve practiced this myself in all sorts of trials, including physical pain, and usually it’s been very helpful and profitable, but this time in my painful itching I was feeling totally defeated!

Last night I laid still in bed for almost two hours meditating on Psalm 23, praying to the Good Shepherd, and resisting itching myself. All of a sudden I couldn’t help myself. I felt like a crazy man clawing at my legs, arms, chest, and back! For close to an hour I anxiously paced the floor scratching about a dozen places till my whole body was on fire!

I cried out to the Lord for relief!

I told him how awful I felt.

I told him how far away he felt.

I Looked to Christ on the Cross

Then I put my attention on Christ at the cross suffering for you and me, to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God. Suddenly two thoughts came to me that blessed me.

Jesus felt painfully distant from God at times. He knew that this would be the case and yet out of love for us he left heaven and came to earth, taking on human flesh!

My other thought from God was to put ice on my body to cool down the fires of my itching!

My meditation and the ice brought me some relief from the itching! Then with God’s help I went back to my battle: laying in bed and resisting itching my sores. I was strongly tempted to stay awake and work or occupy myself with some activity because that’s when I feel best. But I needed to sleep and I needed to rely on my gracious Lord to strengthen me to get through my trial with love for Christ.

My Prayer For You and Me

I’ve shared this journal reflection with you because it’s cathartic for me and I hope it’s helpful for you. Maybe you’re dealing with physical pain or illness that’s not getting healed. Maybe you struggle to keep practicing what you preach. Maybe you feel distant from God. I want you to know that I’m with you.

I’m offering you empathy for your emotions.

And I’m praying that we would keep daring to trust — even when it doesn’t emotionally feel true — that Jesus Christ “stripped Himself of His glory, and took on Him the nature of a bondservant by becoming a man like other men.” (Philippians 2:7, Weymouth) This was a forever sacrifice of love for you and me and the people around us.

“Itching for Jesus” — as in having intense desire for him! — is the best life. His incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection are our only source of eternal living!

Yes, Lord Jesus, we want to be the kind of people who always long to love you more because you are so worthy and wonderful!


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