When I was 18 I started experiencing pain on the left side of my face. One doctor said I was probably chewing too much gum, and another doctor said I probably had TMJ and was stressed out. As the pain continued, I saw more and more doctors. No one could give me an answer, and I started to feel like a crazy person. Was this all in my head…is this really just stress?
For the first four years, I was in incredible pain without a diagnosis. Every medicine I tried made no difference. It was a problem that I couldn’t really explain to friends and family, yes I’m still having the pain every day…no I don’t know what it is. After four years I got a diagnosis, and two and a half years after that I found a medication that worked. I cannot describe how fortunate I felt to finally have some relief. There’s no guarantee that a medicine will work for the rest of my life, nor is there a guarantee that I will have this chronic illness for the rest of my life though it’s likely.
Living with chronic pain or a chronic illness isn’t easy, and it can be hard for others to fully understand what it’s like if they haven’t experienced something similar.
Joshua Rogers, a blogger and writer for Boundless, knows what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. He has written an article for Boundless.org titled “Blaming God for My Chronic Illness.” In 2009 he noticed a distortion in his vision; doctors were not able to identify the cause and he went through many trials of medications. He writes,
“I didn’t want to talk about how I was feeling — not even with my wife. I didn’t want to be seen as pitiable or disabled, and I didn’t want people worrying about me.”
I can relate to Rogers, as I stopped talking about my pain too. Some people assumed I didn’t have it anymore simply because I rarely talked about it. But if you knew me well you would catch on that every time I pressed my hand against the side of my face I was enduring an episode of pain. I didn’t think anything good would come from me announcing my pain every five minutes some days or 30 minutes other days. I didn’t want to become a broken record, and I didn’t want people to think that I couldn’t do life anymore just because I was in pain.
There were times when I couldn’t go to work, a semester where I couldn’t complete my classes, many canceled plans and so on…but I was determined not to let this pain take over my life. I knew that I was living for something greater and that with God’s help I could endure this pain. It certainly wasn’t pleasant most days, nor did I have the best attitude many days, but I had hope. Hope that a cure might be found, hope that my pain would be relieved, and hope that God would help me live with this pain regardless of the first two hopes.
This does not mean that everyone with chronic pain or a chronic illness can function on a daily basis, each chronic pain disorder or illness is different—and it affects each person differently and to different degrees. I certainly functioned much better once I had a medication that reduced my pain. In the beginning I had a really hard time understanding why I had this painful disorder and why God wouldn’t take it away from me. Was He testing me, did I need to prove something, did I not have enough faith for God to take it from me? It took me a while to understand that my level of faith on any given day did not correlate with God’s willingness to heal me. Rogers went through a similar time with his chronic illness. He explains,
“In my frustration, I turned my sights on God and hydroplaned through all kinds of prayers: name-it-and-claim-it declarations, lamentations, pleas for mercy, bargaining and even trying to put Him on guilt trips. None of it worked. Things only got worse — especially the side effects of the medication — and what hurt the most was that God could heal it instantly, but for some reason He was choosing not to.”
That is one of the hardest truths to bear…that God can heal you in an instant but He may choose not to. I used to be angry when God wouldn’t heal me after a night of sobbing through prayers and pain. Even though I have a medicine that greatly reduces my pain now, I still have pain to some degree on a daily basis. But I’m not angry when God doesn’t heal me. And even though I don’t understand why I still have this pain, and I probably never will, I understand that God is in control of it. This doesn’t mean that God is a sadist who enjoys watching people suffer; His Word testifies the opposite of Him. It means that God has a greater plan, a plan that is bigger than me; it means that God allows a suffering world to continue so that He can continue working in it for the sake of His glory. I’m not sure how my chronic pain or the chronic illness of others fits into that specifically, but it means that I can trust God and I can find peace in His control. I can depend on my Father even when He does not heal me.
Rogers relates the wait for healing to waiting for Christmas. He shares,
“Christmas might come any day now — I don’t have access to God’s calendar. Christmas might even come when I die, but it’s not like that’s any less miraculous. Heaven is part of the timeline of my life. And so I celebrate in advance, waiting in anticipation to open my gift — whenever it comes — finally getting the answer to the question, ‘Why me?’”
He’s right, we don’t have access to God’s calendar, and we don’t have access to God’s reasoning. We don’t get to know why one person suffers and another doesn’t, or why one person suffers now and another later. Or even why one person suffers for a little while and another for a lifetime. But here’s what we can know:
We can know and believe and trust that God is who He says He is.
That He is HOLY and GOOD.
That He is WORTHY of all praise at all times.
That He is in CONTROL of all things and KNOWS all things.
That He is EVERYTHING and the ONLY thing we truly need.
That He will bring about ultimate and lasting HEALING on the last day of this world.
As Rogers points out, our “Christmas” might not come until the day we die but that won’t make it any less miraculous. Let’s anticipate the day when Christ returns, the day when all wrongs will be made right, when sin and pain and suffering will be expelled from existence, when healing will last forever.
To read Rogers’ full article please visit Boundless.org.
1. We are not in control.
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). “I know O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
2. We are not promised a pain-free life.
Hall expresses, “Christ displayed the grace of God through suffering (Heb. 2:9–10). Through suffering I can know Christ better and become more like him (Phil. 3:10).”
3. Our source of contentment is found in Christ alone.
Hall advises, “I am learning that suffering is a gracious gift from God that strips away all that competes for my affections and loyalty to him. I am beginning to understand and live in the truth of Philippians 1:21: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’”
To read all 8 lessons from Hall please visit TheGospelCoalition.org.
Remember, God knows us—He is for us, He loves us, and He can be trusted even when our life doesn’t look or feel the way we want it to.
Crosswalk Contributor Debbie McDaniel, expresses this in her post “God Can Bring Treasure through the Darkest of Times: 11 Verses of Hope”:
“Don't ever doubt that He is with you through the greatest times of darkness. Bringing purpose and beauty through it all. He's never forgotten. He's still in control. He calls you by name. A new day dawns...and He has good in store...for you. Shine on.”
This is a Scripture verse I mediate on often, that even in my worst pain God's grace is sufficient for me (2 Cor. 12:9). His grace covers all my pain; His grace covers your illness, your suffering, your struggle, your cancer...His grace covers all.
Publication date: September 19, 2016
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.