Discovering Treasures from Chronic Illness

You are an 18-year-old girl. You’re entering into adulthood and anticipating entrance into University. You have been counting down the days this new chapter would begin but something is not right. You start to feel weak. You feel immense amounts of pain. You’re noticing frequent trips to the bathroom sometimes feeling embarrassed to be leaving the classroom. Sometimes you are overwhelmed with fatigue. Some days you can’t make it out of bed or up the stairs. Sometimes it seems that for every battle fought and won, there are several new battles waiting for you on the other side. You don’t know that your condition has a name. As far as you can tell, you are the only woman who has ever had to suffer in this way. You don’t know that 1 in every 150 Canadians currently share in the same pain. You also don’t know that many more join this sisterhood of suffering every year. As the lonely months and years go by, you understand that this illness will not go away but only get worse, that your injury will not heal on its own, and that there is nothing you can do to change your condition. So you reach your tear-filled hands up to Jesus, praying for a miracle.

When I think about the days, nights, months and years of living in a body ridden with an incurable disease, naturally tears fill my eyes. I like to avoid writing posts on health topics because:

The pain.
The struggle.
The memories.
The loneliness.
The lost quality of life.

The reality of living with chronic illness is that it has been no walk in the park. Most of my life has been comprised of me living with silent, chronic illness. This means you can’t see my illness with your eyes.  I’m not in a wheelchair, nor do you know that I am frequently hooked up to an IV. You may not know that I struggle with the psychological effects and depression that come with the way this disease affects my body and body image. When people see me they think I’m normal, but that’s not my reality.

Recently in my pain, the Lord brought me to the story of Jonah. This man was running from God and he planned to travel in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go. God was calling him to face a task that he did not have the heart to undertake (like living with chronic illness). God sent a big storm after Jonah had boarded the ship to convince him of his calling. This storm had cost the crew all that they had, and it was still raging. Everything they tried only made things worse. It struck me at this point in the story that here I am, fighting a storm that God has allowed in my life and I’ve been running from Him. I’ve been running from the purpose that he has for my pain. If it were up to me there would be no Hurricane of Disease. There would be no loss of cargo. But God is as big as the whole sea and unbending to my efforts to run away from Him.

Psalm 139 says:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Although God can take good out of suffering, I believe that God can and still does heal today. I also believe, though, that God offers treasures in the darkness (Is 43) and can allow us to grow spiritually, but maybe not comfortably by allowing the “thorns in our side” (2 Cor 12:9).  If it is his will, I believe that God can heal us even if we don’t have enough faith to believe, therefore there is no formula of “praying right” to receive healing (Mark 6:5). Disease is not a sign that we have done something terribly wrong (John 9:3). The Bible tells us that we will suffer and it tells us why we suffer: “we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.” Although many define suffering differently, I believe that the purpose in our suffering is to bring glory to God even if we have many questions and cannot understand the reasons.

I can tell you that there is good to be discovered through my suffering:

  • I am no longer surprised by tragedy. I believe that misfortune is part of living in a fallen world and that God can take beauty out suffering.
  • A greater empathy and compassion for those struggling through difficult circumstances.
  • I choose everyday now to believe that is God good, that He loves me, that He has a plan for my life.
  • A greater intimacy and faith in God. When the burdens of pain seem overwhelming, I reflect on the Gethsemane story and once more weep the words, “Not my will but yours be done...”
  • Greater gratitude for the simple things. I thank God for a new day. For the incredible gift of a supportive fiancee, family, and friends that support me on my day-to-day journey.
  • Reliance on God. I no longer can depend on myself for strength and provision. All comes from the hand of God.

Remember God knows about each difficult situation in your life. He has promised to be your light in the darkness, dispelling all the shadows and leading you through. You can walk confidently through the storm knowing he is your shepherd, he is your guide. When you feel misunderstood and lonely from your suffering, however that may look for you, he is One you can rely on. If you suffer from chronic disease, surround yourself with loving people who will support you when things get difficult and trust knowing that the One who loves you will never leave your side.

Prayer: God, help us to trust that You will guide us through the many tears and the confusion that comes with chronic illness. Help us to pray and believe for healing, and trust in your timing. When we have questions, remind us to stop and pray, knowing You will bring us on a path where we will not stumble. Amen.

Food for thought: Reflect and make a list of the treasures in the darkness that you have discovered through your suffering.