Feeling fatigued most days. Being in constant pain. Not being able to do the things you want to do. Chronic illness wrecks the life of the one who has it. As someone who has dealt with chronic illness, diagnosed and undiagnosed, all of her life, I can attest to the suffering that it creates. It feels never ending. Some days you may have relief, but the symptoms always come back with a fury. If you live with chronic illness, you know what I am talking about.
Something I have thought a lot about recently is how we respond to this constant physical suffering. For example, I have not been feeling well at all the past week and I am just done with it at this point. Normally a bad bout of symptoms lasts just a couple days but it keeps dragging out longer and longer. I keep fighting back tears of frustration and asking God, why am I feeling so bad right now? Why is this constant fatigue, nausea, and headaches not going away? Getting up for my 8am class is a struggle, and after classes all I want to do is go home and take a nap, but I can’t because I have homework and other responsibilities. My response to all this is usually feeling sorry for myself and wanting to just curl up in a ball and neglect my responsibilities. I usually get depressed when I have a long bout of symptoms. I at least get intensely sad and frustrated.
How I should I really respond to my chronic illness though? How should you? What does the Bible say about dealing with stuff like this?
What does the Bible say about suffering and chronic illness?
The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about chronic illness specifically. The main passage in Scripture that may be talking about chronic illness is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”NKJV
Paul could have been referring to a chronic illness but he also could have been referring to a temptation. Either way, it suits our purposes. Paul had an issue that he asked God three times to take away because it caused that much suffering. God responded with saying that His strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul says that because of God’s response that he takes pleasure in his suffering, for Christ’s sake. Christ is glorified in our weakness when we trust in Him.
Scripture may not talk a lot about chronic illness specifically but it does talk quite a bit about suffering. My favorite passage in all of Scripture is actually on suffering because it has been a major encouragement to me over the years.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”James 1:2-4 NKJV
James says that we need to be joyful in our suffering. The reason for this is that when our faith is tested we progress in our sanctification. Progressive sanctification is the process of becoming more like Christ. When we have a right response to our suffering, we can use that suffering to our advantage—to become more like Christ.
How should we respond to chronic illness?
1) We need to focus on glorifying God through your suffering. Paul was given his thorn in the flesh so that he would exalt God and give Him glory. We need to do the same. The main way we can glorify God through our suffering is to not grumble and complain about the suffering (Phil 2:14-16). We shouldn’t ask God why He would put us through this suffering. We should trust His sovereignty and know that He has a plan for all this (Romans 8:28-29).
2) We need to focus on using our suffering to help us become more like Christ. James says that is part of God’s plan for suffering. When we are struggling, we should delve into Scripture and let that transform how we respond to suffering. Studying the many various passages about suffering is a great place to start.
3) Bring into your focus the end result of all of this. The ending has no suffering. We will spend forever basking in God’s presence and living our lives free of pain and suffering. Focusing on this hope can be very helpful in keeping a positive view when it comes to suffering. The end might seem far away but it is nearer than you think so let it bring you hope.
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:4 NKJV
Our response to suffering is important. The right response to chronic illness makes dealing with the symptoms easier. It is still going to be a battle. It is still going to be a struggle to deal with the chronic illness. But we have a God who wants to help us work through our suffering and end up glorifying Him through it all. We must never forget that.