In May of 2008, everything seemed to be going my way. I had just graduated from college and accepted an internship with a Christian mission organization, planning to subsequently join one of their teams in Asia. Over the summer months, I raised enough money to fully fund the internship. In early September, full of anticipation and excitement, I flew out to the organization’s training and sending base in western Canada. I could not have predicted that only three and a half months later, I would be back in the States for the foreseeable future.
Two months into my internship, I began to develop some troubling health symptoms. I ignored them, but my teammates were concerned. One week later, my symptoms progressed to the extent that I became worried myself. After one more week, I was in an acute care wing of the local hospital, diagnosed with a chronic illness.
I was kept in the hospital for seventeen days. During that time, my world was very dark. Everything I thought I knew was challenged, including my self-identity, sense of security, and faith. I planned to move to Asia, and now my plans had to change, and I was told I would be returning to the States indefinitely. I was very angry with God, and I had a lot of questions and fears. What would this mean for my future? How could God allow this to happen to me?
I Cried to God, But Wasn’t Healed
Because my hospitalization had been so rushed, I only brought two things with me: my Bible and my journal. In between resting and recovering, I read and journaled through the psalms. David’s raw cries for help in the midst of difficulty resonated deeply with me (Psalm 22). I related to the language of distress and David’s pleas for rescue (Psalm 6:4-9). Yet even as I prayed David’s prayer in Psalm 69—“Save me, God!”—I found myself lacking his confidence and hope in a God who “will rescue Jerusalem, and rebuild the walls of Judah.” I thought to myself, “How can God rescue me if God doesn’t heal me?”
Fast forward nine years, and despite many faith-filled prayers, I am still not physically healed. Although I have learned healthy ways to cope with and manage my illness, I continue to bear it.
Finding Comfort and Strength in Scripture
Nevertheless, God has granted me encouragement and strength in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul begs God three times to take his suffering away. God’s reply was, “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” Paul then concludes, “I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Content? Happy? Proud? This is very strange language within the context of suffering!
The CEV translation says it this way, “So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how weak I am.” In these verses, I see both the beauty of the gospel and the hope I have in Christ. As a Christian, I am a recipient of salvation through grace—the unmerited favor of God—by faith in Christ. And as someone with a chronic illness, although I have never bragged about how it has weakened me, I have seen and shared with others how God’s strength sustains me in the midst of that weakness.
My Weakness, God’s Power
God’s strength in my life is shown most powerfully when in sharp relief against my fragility. My weakness, God’s power. My suffering, God’s grace. In this way, my illness transcends the boundaries of my physical body to become an illustration of God’s love for me and for the world. Yes, I still long for healing. Yes, I still pray and plead to God through the psalms for rescue. But in the midst of my distress and my prayers, I hold onto God’s promise that one day in eternity, God will fully and completely rebuild and restore me (Revelation 21:4-5). Until then, I will rest in the strength God has granted to me. God’s power is more than sufficient to sustain me in my illness.
I know that I am not alone in having to manage and cope with a chronic illness. Whether it is diabetes, asthma, mental health, cancer, HIV/AIDS, or other diagnoses—we all face challenges unique to our lives and experiences. I invite you to read some of the following passages that encourage me as I consider what it means to live with a chronic illness.
2 Corinthians 1:3-6
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. If we suffer, it is for your help and salvation; if we are helped, then you too are helped and given the strength to endure with patience the same sufferings that we also endure.
Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day—and not only to me, but to all those who wait with love for him to appear.
Lord, show me what it means to rest in God’s grace. Christ has born the burdens of my humanity; may Christ’s love and sacrifice carry, strengthen, and sustain me. Help me to reflect that love to the world, and to find hope in the healing that is to come.
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