The other day a friend told me she was glad she knew me before I had an autoimmune condition because now, she said, my face looks sad. She could hardly get the last words out before she burst into tears. I felt touched, but also misunderstood. I don’t blame her. It’s hard for me to communicate what it’s like to struggle with long term illness.
What I Struggle With
She was right that I do get discouraged. It’s difficult to be somewhat sick all the time, and the difficult part is that illness doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It affects the people I love.
The other week one of my pastors was teaching on healthy relationships and interactions within the church community. Specifically, he spoke of Galatians 2.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”
“For each will have to bear his own load.”
He explained how we go through periods in life where we need others to bear our burdens. This is one of the great blessings of being in a church community. But ideally we want to grow out of this neediness into a place of maturity where we are able to bear other people’s burdens.
These last two years have felt like an eternity of weakness to me. I accept help that I cannot pay back. I take more than I can give. I am forced to trust that God rewards those acts of love toward me, and to release fears that people will resent me for my lack of reciprocation. I cannot change the things that I cannot change. It is very humbling.
I trust that God is teaching me about compassion and that I will be better able to comfort others with the comfort God has given me, but most days, I wish I could be stronger.
Why I Wouldn’t Change Anything
When asked how I’m doing, I struggle to articulate the complexities of my week.
My illness does make me feel frustrated and embarrassed at times. But I am also blessed with loving friends and family, a freshly renovated home, and most of all, by God’s grace. I have great hope for my future because I am a child of God.
In 2 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”. In another place “perplexed, but not driven to despair”. Sometimes life is complicated, and for the Christian I think this is especially true. Discouragement and joy are simultaneously true for me, but they do not hold equal weight. Hope transcends my struggles.
I see God’s love at work in my life. I know that these difficult things are working together for my good and for the good of those in my life. I see how they are preparing me for eternity and this gives me hope for today. 19th century pastor Charles Spurgeon said:
Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.
Maybe my face looks sad these days, but I hope you can see the joy too. I have no desire to rewind time or go back to how things were before. My trials have changed me, but what God has taken from me, he has restored in better ways.
So, friend, I’m humbled by your tears, but I would not change things if I could. God is loving me, even in sickness.