Sometimes, life just does not feel fair. Living with a chronic illness exemplifies this. It is far too easy to take a condition you have and to make it the focus of your life.
It is also far too easy to become discouraged and bitter because what may be easy for someone (like walking up the stairs as an example) is a chore for you, if it is possible at all. Feelings of hopelessness as doctors are unable to do anything but keep pain at bay are very common. This is the life that many people live.
I have a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, so I am all too familiar with those feelings. I know what it is like to cry your heart out to God asking Him to take something from you, or to sit in a doctor’s office while the doctor scratches their head because the last time they heard of your condition was in their second year of med school. Living life like this is not easy, but through it, God has taught (and is teaching) me some invaluable lessons that I may not have learned otherwise.
God is still God
Of all that I have learned, this is the most important for getting through each day. It is on the days when getting out of bed is a chore that I am most reminded (or need to be reminded) of this. It is the times when I cry out for relief that I find myself closest to Him, even if the relief that I pray for relief does not come. I live in the tension of knowing that He sustains me and that He is the God of all comfort, and that at times I have to trust that is grace is sufficient for me, especially in these times of weakness.
There comes a time when those of us who suffer have to look and say, “If I am healed, praise God. If I am not, praise God.” Those words are hard to say, but as I have learned through my suffering, those words are sometimes all that I can fall back onto. He is still God, and I am still not. Until this is learned, suffering can be unbearable, but it is through the fire of suffering that this lesson can be learned at the deepest level.
All things work together for His good
When things go bad, knowing that God is at work has a whole new meaning. It’s easy to see His hand when everything is going my way. Knowing that He is working all things for good, even if that good is not what I expect, receives a whole new meaning. The good that He is working is not guaranteed to bring me physical comfort or healing, though He may. It does mean, however, that He will use this. Even the moments when the very act of sitting up is a chore.
He is the one who sustains me in those moments, and through those moments I grow closer to Him. The good that He works is for His glory. It is obvious that I cannot do much by my own strength. Through my pain, I have learned more about God and His grace than I could have otherwise. I have seen Him glorified in my life through what may appear to be the most trivial of circumstances. His good and His will have been exemplified through these times.
Not needing the acceptance of men
Part of my condition is that it is classified as an “invisible illness”. What this means is that, on most days, you cannot tell that I am sick. It is not uncommon for me to get weird looks or to have snide remarks when I take the elevator up to the second floor or stumble while walking. I hear on a regular basis “but you look fine’, or “but you’re too young to be in this type of pain”.
It is very easy for me to crave being accepted by others, to not have those remarks or looks, to not be treated like I may break at any moment. However, this is not an option for me. Instead, I have started to learn to accept this and to not put my worth in others view of me, which is a large area where I can find myself struggling. Instead, I have learned to have trust in God as my identity and my focus.
When there is no end in sight, you have two options. You can either surrender, or you can take the situation and push through. As a Christian, I have found that the only option that is open to me is to persevere. This holds true for both my faith and my physical body. There are times where I do have to just lie down recover, but I always fight to get back up and keep on going.
The same has become true of my faith. There are times when the pain I have been in has made me look at my faith in the face and look to see how sincere it is. I had to keep fighting to see that it is strong enough to make it through another night of pain. Those nights have made me more sure of my confidence in God than a thousand peaceful nights could have. James was right on when he said that through the trials that test our faith, we are made mature and complete (James 1:2-4).
These are only a few of the lessons that I have learned through living with a chronic illness, however, I also belive they are lessons that every Christian should learn. I would never have prayed to have learned these lessons this way, but God knew what He was doing and has shaped me and furthered me in sanctification, and He continues to do so as I take the lessons further to heart.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of if you have conditions like this or not, learn these lessons. Pray that you can learn them easily through the study of Scripture or through the experiences of people like me, but if God has allowed you to learn through an illness, rejoice through that as well and learn to lean on Him.