Monday, June 1, 2015

Diabetic Retinopathy - Physical and Spiritual

"No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays." (Luke 11:33-36 NASB)

We are currently taking a detour through a few eye diseases to help us understand the concept of "clear eye" and to make spiritual applications. We have previously considered Macular DegenerationGlaucomaDetached Retina, and Cataracts. You can click on the links to see those. Today, we are exploring Diabetic Retinopathy.

The picture above is frightening to me. This is the same photo we've viewed several times, but this time, it is shown as seen with diabetic retinopathy. In diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness, there is damage to the blood vessels of the eye. This is manifested in two ways. In some people, micro-aneurysms form along the blood vessels of the eye. These tiny aneurysms are ballooned-out areas of thinning and enlargement of the vessels. Very fragile, the micro-aneurysms can rupture and bleed into the eye and cause vision blurring or loss. 

As the retinopathy progresses, the vessels can become blocked, eventually resulting in hypoxia of the retina. The brain reacts to the lack of oxygen in the retina (the hypoxia) by triggering the growth of new blood vessels along the retina. That sounds like a good thing, but it is not. The new vessels are fragile and prone to bleed. When these vessels bleed, the end result is often vision loss and blindness. 

Everyone with diabetes is at risk for retinopathy and nearly half (45%) of the people with diabetes have some degree of retinopathy. There are no warning symptoms, so regular eye exams are essential. That's scary, isn't it? 

What's even scarier is that tight glucose control has been shown to slow the onset and progression of retinopathy. Yes. Keeping our blood sugar under control at all times can help to save our vision. When we are looking at a piece of cake or a bowl of pasta, it's hard to remember that, but it's true. Preventing diabetic retinopathy is done one choice at a time. 

I've tried to avoid carbohydrates recently, and it's harder than I thought. As usual, the thing I say I'm not going to have is the very thing I want. It's not impossible, however. Like most things, limiting carbohydrates is a task done one choice at a time.

Diabetic retinopathy relates to our spiritual lives in more than one way, but we will only consider the issue of choice today. (More later) In the Southern United States, diabetes is rampant. Genetics does play a part, but many cases of Type II diabetes are related to life-style choices. Lack of exercise, excessive simple carbohydrates, too little protein all predispose us to diabetes. Regular exercise, limiting our carbohydrates and processed foods, a steady supply of protein are all lifestyle choices that can help prevent diabetes and keep us healthy. If we choose them. 

Just as important, only one good choice is not enough. Eating chicken every day while also eating a sugary dessert at every meal does not "balance out". Taking medication without changing our diet is not enough. A healthy lifestyle requires that we choose all the actions in a healthy lifestyle. (Diet and exercise)

From a spiritual perspective, Bible study, memorizing Scripture, forgiving those who have wronged us, praying for enemies, and loving our neighbor as ourselves are all choices that can help keep us healthy spiritually.  Jesus summed it up in a simple two-part command. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we do that, following Him will be much easier. 

Obedience is not an a la carte menu. God did not present us with a buffet of obedience options. Bible study alone will not make us the disciples Jesus intended us to be, nor will memorizing the entire Bible. Loving God must be accompanied by loving our neighbor, and we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

When we love as we are supposed to love, everything changes. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we are less likely to condemn our neighbor and more likely to pray for our neighbor. We are less likely to indulge our own wants and more likely to meet the needs of our neighbor, instead. 

If we want to prevent diabetic retinopathy, we must make a series of hard choices every single day. If we want to become the disciple Jesus intended, we must also make a series of hard choices, every single day. Those choices begin with love. 

Of all the choices we can make, the greatest one, the most important one, is love. It changes everything.