This is my 25th year of suffering from Lyme disease and it’s associated co-infections and often pray it will be my last. It has turned me from an active, confident person into someone trapped in a frail, exhausted body. I went from being an enthusiastic, goal-oriented person to someone who was stripped of their ability to work, walk, shower, and care for myself. I am now a person limited to my bed or couch, missing church, family events, social outings, traveling and just being around people in general. It has changed my life so dramatically that it has shaken me to the very core of who I am.
For those who struggle with chronic illness in any form, the experience is at times unbearable and overwhelming. Not only am I affected physically, but it affects me mentally as I struggle to read, think, talk and concentrate. It affects me emotionally as I grieve what I have lost and struggle to cope with life as it is now. Life is now painstakingly slower and much more limited. I get frustrated, isolated, lonely and scared. Some days I don’t feel anything at all. It’s a constant, 24/7 assault with no certain treatment or cure and no guarantee that you come out the other end of this alive.
I often find being a Christian with this illness very hard. My mind can sometimes be too foggy to read a few verses, let alone try to think about them and apply them to my life. It’s hard to keep giving my life to Christ when I don’t really like what He’s doing with it, when embracing His will means accepting horrible symptoms, disappointments and a lack of answers. Sometimes God just feels so far away, and I feel like I’ve got no trust left, that I can’t do it anymore, and I get angry at Him because of the situation I’m in. In those awful moments when I don’t cope, I still find myself crying out: God, I know that it’s your will that I’m sick, but does it really have to be this bad?
My story is not one of victory, but of struggle. It isn’t one of knowledge and godliness achieved like the great heroes we read about in the Bible, but of constant wrestling and learning and re-learning. God is using this trial to teach me—sinful me—some of what it means to give up my life to Him.
So I figured I’d jot down some lessons I’m learning as I watch the world and time pass by.
HOPES AND DREAMS
I had so many plans, hopes and dreams for my days on this earth, but I’m learning that my plans aren’t always His plans. I thought I had good plans, but God says His plans are best. He’s reminding me that the main purpose of my life isn’t to necessarily “do” things (thought that’s what I would like!), but it’s to bring glory to Him whatever my life looks like. My hopes and dreams seem distant, and often dead, but He’s working and shaping me. He chooses what happens to me and how He will use me.
WHERE TO TURN
Throughout this suffering my heart seeks comfort, joy and peace. I’ve often turned to our broken world for these things instead of to God. I’ve found that my biggest challenge in any day is to run to Him, not to the world. I wonder sometimes how many things God has to take away from me before I listen to His voice? “Cling to Me. Cling to Me. I love you!” God is teaching me that the things I put my hope in, in this world, could be gone at any moment.
Constant fatigue and unrelenting symptoms are a reminder of my frailty, weaknesses and never-ending need for God. It never lets me forget that I am small, God is huge, and He doesn’t need me to get His work done. I’m reminded of God’s complete control. He is the one who decides whether I get out of bed and how much I can do. It keeps me on my knees, and I’m learning that’s the best place to be, for that is where I belong.
This illness has also helped me realize that there are things I’ve been finding my worth in apart from God. I thought my value was caught up in what I did, accomplished or the possessions I owned. But I am learning that I am no less valuable now than I was before. If I added up all I now ‘achieve’ in a whole day, it would only fill an hour of my old normal day. I am just as worthwhile, loved and significant, even if I can’t get off the couch. May this truth crush the need I have to achieve things each day to feel good about myself, and teach me to surrender to God the things I find my worth in apart from him. For my value comes from who God has made me, the qualities He’s given me and what He has done to make me His child.
CARING FOR MYSELF
I’ve never been great at asking for help, or admitting when I’m not coping well but I’m learning that it can be helpful to be real with people about how hard life is. Whenever someone would ask how I’m doing, I would give the standard “I’m ok” answer even if I wasn’t ok. It’s alright for me to tell someone how I’m really doing. I am just as important as others. If I tell others honestly how I am doing, my motive not being to complain, then it can encourage others not to hide their struggles as well, and show them that they are not alone. It can create a culture of honesty, where I can care more deeply for others, and they for me.
And most importantly of all, this illness causes me to yearn for Heaven in a real and unique way, and on the days I can really grasp its reality, it puts the pains of this life into perspective. In my life before this illness, I found it so easy to become engulfed in daily comings and goings. The slowness of my life now, the absence of that busyness, has helped me pull my head out of life in this world, and better understand these four words: this life is temporary. And much comfort is found in Heaven.
So although I will continue to pray for healing, I want to even more earnestly pray for strength to keep giving my life to Christ and trust Him in the midst of my illness. May I not run from suffering but run to my Savior, and keep pleading with Him to teach me to love Him and His ways more than I love my life, and the comforts of this world.