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Reflections

Updated on November 5, 2009

On Chronic Illness, God, and Trusting Him When Nothing Makes Sense

During the past 5 years I have gone through some difficult and frustrating times with chronic illnesses. I have made so many trips to the ER that the EMT’s, nurses and some of the doctors recognize me; spent sleepless nights in the hospital; had doctors, family and friends suggest it’s all in my head and I’m doing it for attention; dropped out of college twice because of health reasons; spent months being bedridden with 24 hour care; started to rebuild my life, only to get sick again and have it all come crashing down; and spent almost every day of the past 5 years with pain, crushing fatigue, and a multitude of other symptoms…and I still don’t have a diagnosis, other than asthma. Understandably, there have been times when it has seemed like it was too much to handle and I have gotten depressed and angry. During one of those days, I wrote a note on Facebook expressing my frustrations. A week later I re-read the note and realized how negative it was; my first instinct was to just delete it, but then I realized that it expressed pretty accurately what I have to go through every day. Instead of deleting it, I decided to write another note in response, with a more positive side to it. Instead of ranting about all of the things I hate about being sick, I explained a little about my relationship with God, how I can still believe in him after everything I’ve gone through, and why he might allow us to go though these things. The first paragraph was just a little bit about my life at the time I wrote it and is no longer relevant, so I’m going to start right in with the second paragraph, which is where I actually get to the point of the note. Here is the rest of the note, unaltered from when I first wrote it in April:

...Most importantly, the Lord has drawn me closer to him through my illness. I have a tendency to try to control everything in my life and micromanage every detail, making plans for every little thing, shutting out God and his plans for me. When you have an illness like mine, that doesn't work so well. Every time I try to grab the reins and manage my life on my own, I get sick and everything I have worked so hard to build comes crashing down. This might seem cruel, and it certainly is frustrating, but it forces me to rely on, and trust in, God. When everything else comes crashing down, the only thing that stays the same is God and his love for me. Besides, I know he has plans for me that are bigger and better than anything I could imagine, and when I try to micromanage my life I just get in the way of those plans. If I stop trying to control my life, I'll have a lot more time and energy to put into getting to know God better and being a witness for him. Being sick has helped me to grow in my faith in a lot of ways that I wouldn't have otherwise.

I know a lot of people may be wondering why, if God loves me, he would let me go through something like this, or why I continue to believe in him after everything that has happened to me. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but those have been big questions for me that I now have a little more peace with. I could try to explain it all myself, but I have trouble putting things into words sometimes, and I have found some quotes and some songs that say it better than I ever could. The first is a quote from the book "Don't Waste Your Life" by John Piper:

"We simply take life and breath and health and friends and everything for granted. We think it is ours by right. But the fact is that it is not ours by right. We are doubly undeserving of it. 1) We are creatures, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything--not life or health or anything. He gives, he takes, and he does us no injustice (Job 1:21). 2) And besides being creatures with no claim on our Creator, we are sinners. We have fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). We have ignored him and disobeyed him and failed to love him and trust him. The wrath of his justice is kindled against us. All we deserve from him is judgment (Romans 3:19). Therefore every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day that the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is, for now, a free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment."

I had never though about it that way before. We tend to think that we are entitled to everything good in life, just because there are some people who seem to have it all. The truth is, though, God doesn't owe us anything. Thinking about life in this way makes me much more thankful for all I do have, and takes the focus off of what I don't have. Another perspective on the question of why God lets us suffer is from the song "Sometimes He Calms The Storm" by Scott Krippayne:

"Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn't mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child"

Sometimes he does calm the storm, and takes whatever it is that's causing us pain away from us. Other times he chooses not to take these things away, and instead uses the opportunity to bring us closer to him. This is what he has done for me, even if he someday chooses to take my illness away. I have grown closer to him in ways I never could have otherwise.

As for the question of how I could still believe in God, let alone trust in him and call him my savior, after everything that has happened to me, there is another song that says it much better than I can. It's "Bring the Rain" by Mercyme:

"I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I've gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It's never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times"

If I didn't have God, who (or what) would I turn to? Would I have even made it through the past few years? I can't even imagine how my life would be different. Without God to turn to, to lean on when I can't go on myself, to cry to when times are tough, to praise and thank for all he's given me, I don't know where I would be.

There is so much more I could write, so many more songs and books and verses that have touched my heart, but this is a basic idea of all I have learned through my illness. I will leave you with just one more verse, the verse that has realigned my perspective on life so many times over the past few years:

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."--John 16:33.

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