Chronic illness is rampant today. So many of us are suffering with chronic symptoms that can leave us limited and in pain. And honestly, this has tested my faith in big ways. Because, where is God in chronic illness?
Where is God when we are faced with these unending and seemingly hopeless symptoms? Where is God when we find a diagnosis or an answer and then realize that the prognosis still isn’t total healing?
I want to share some of my story today in hopes that you can find encouragement. I hope that you can begin to see where God may be at work in the midst of your own chronic illness or unexplained symptoms.
I received my first diagnosis at 20 and went on to receive several more in the next few years. I’d been struggling with minor and yet unending chronic symptoms for as long as I remember. I’d been to several doctors who dismissed me as being “too stressed” or these symptoms being “all in my head.”
If you struggle with chronic illness, I’m almost positive you can relate. You can probably relate to the mad search for answers. And maybe you can relate to the hopeless feeling after you’ve found an answer and yet you're still not feeling well.
I want to start by saying that God is at work in your life right now, no matter where in this journey you are. He is with you and He wants you to find healing and hope.
But I want to address some of the tough questions that I asked on my own journey and that I’m guessing you may be asking as well.
Asking the Tough Questions: Why?
This little 3-letter question can permeate our souls and drive us far from the hope and intimacy with the Lord that God wants for us - especially when we are in the midst of suffering.
Why did this happen to me?
Why does God allow suffering?
Why doesn’t God heal me?
These can follow us through the painful and difficult days. And sometimes, they can leave us questioning our faith.
I don’t think asking these questions is wrong, but I do think that finding our hope in the answers to these questions is not what God calls us to. This isn’t where we will find true peace and joy.
I had once heard someone speak, someone who had gone through unspeakable tragedy, and he said that instead of asking why did this happen to me?, we should be asking how can God use me in this?
I typed up his exact quote and taped it to my wall for a time. Because all I wanted was to know why I was going through what I was going through. And I needed the constant reminder to change this mindset.
Because as much as God can reveal little moments of the why to us, I think that we need to be willing to rest in the unknown of trusting that God has a bigger plan. Even when we cannot see it.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:9
We must cling to these promises and truths, even as we ask the question of why. Because God is working for our good, even when we do not see. And God’s ways are so much bigger than our ways - even when we do not understand.
I believe that standing on these truths is the foundation to living with hope in the midst of chronic illness and it will ultimately lead to strength as we cope with our symptoms.
Coping with Limitations
So if we choose to trust God and choose to stand on these promises above, how do we cope with the fact that we have these limitations and these sufferings - possibly for life?
Honestly, this is one of the most difficult things for me.
My value was wrapped up in my expectations of achievement and wellness.
This kept me from peace in where I was at.
I don’t think that God’s will is for us to suffer. I believe that He wants us well. But sometimes, that is a process. And in that process, we have to understand where our value is.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:9-10
When I am weak, I more powerfully display Christ’s strength. I love the verse that says Christ’s power may rest on me. When I feel weak, I literally envision Christ’s power resting on me.
I have to be okay with being weak. And I think you will have to be okay with this too.
We live in a broken world. We will not meet every expectation that we place on ourselves, that our loved ones place on us and that society places on us. No matter how well we are.
Choosing to be content right where you are is going to be a game changer.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-13
We must cultivate a content heart wherever we are. This will lead to peace. This will lead to hope. This will lead to true surrender.
I’m not saying that you have to accept pain and suffering for the rest of your life. But I do believe that when we choose to be content and okay with where we are at the moment, that is when God can do powerful things in and through us.
What are the specific things or expectations that keep you from being content where you are? Is it your job, your family, your expectation of wellness that leads you to wishing things were different?
Take some time to pray through this and ask God to show you what keeps you from a content heart that can fully surrender to Him. And don’t be afraid to ask for healing in the process. This is a balance I believe we must strike as those who struggle with chronic illness.
His Glory Be Shown
As deeply as I want to be well, I also must adopt an eternal mindset in the midst of my suffering. My hope is not in this world. My hope is in Christ alone.
When I find myself angry or questioning God or feeling hopeless, I find that my expectations and hope have drifted onto things like comfort or success.
But as I shift my mindset to one of eternal hope, then I can find the strength to get through my days.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. -John 9:1-3
So many times in my asking why or in my hopelessness, I forget how my purpose here is to spread God’s love and glory. What a blessing it is when God’s magnificent glory is shown through me.
I cannot even express the humble gratitude and joy that I experience when I see God work through me to draw another closer to Him.
I used to say that if just one person could be helped by what I’ve gone through it would make it worth it. If one person could come to know Christ because of God’s work through me, it would be worth all the pain and suffering. This mindset gave me strength and purpose.
We must step back and recognize that our day-to-day is just a very small piece of a beautiful tapestry that God is weaving throughout the lives of many. It may look messy and painful up close, but as you back up and zoom out, you will see God’s beautiful masterpiece.
And what a blessing it is that He chose you.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
We are going to face trouble, hardship and suffering. That is just a part of walking in a broken world. But as you surrender to God, placing your hope in Him and your trust in Him, you will see His magnificent glory displayed in you.
You will find peace and hope and my prayer is that you will find healing as you choose to stand in Him.
I would love to hear your story in the comments below. Let me know where you need prayer so that I can pray for you. Let us pray for one another and join together in eternal hope and in being vessels for God’s power and glory!