What may seem an innocuous question to most, and likely irrelevant to those who do not believe in a sovereign God, was one that plagued me quite early on in my chronic illness.
To me there is no randomness in the universe, but rather a closely guided plan that is the divine will of God. While this faith is complete, and without question in my soul, it created an internal turmoil from many unanswered questions due to my recent pain and illness.
Having accepted that my illness was not just some random fluke of a fallen world, or from a disinterested God, I was forced to acknowledge that God had actually allowed me to go through years of pain, disability, frustration, and even doubt in Him.
In the process of coming to terms with my chronic illness, it became very important for me to know if God was actually afflicting me as a punishment, or allowing the affliction as a form of lesson.
Perhaps this is, as I said earlier, a trivial thing to most, but I doubt that there is anyone suffering from chronic pain and illness who has not asked “Why me?”
I started by trying to figure out what great sin I had committed that would cause God to be angry enough to strike me down with this illness. In hindsight, I admit that this was a futile effort, because there were so many wrongs I had committed in my past.
From my youth to my salvation at age 33, there wasn’t one of God’s commandments that was left standing in my life, and I was further pained to admit that my record as a Christian had not been much better. If I was to accept the salvation from Jesus Christ as a real event in my life, then I also had to assume that my true repentance for each of these new sins came with the same forgiveness as those that fell before my salvation.
This left me with the struggle of what lesson was I to learn from this illness. Was God honing me with fire? Was he trying to purge my own self-reliance? Was he trying to humble me?
The answer to all of these questions was probably yes. All of these goals were necessary for me to walk the road ahead of me with a body ravaged by a long-term illness. I would also later learn that these lessons were necessary for my sanity, and health. But the questions I still faced were: Would changing these things in me fix what was wrong both spiritually and physically? Could I put forth the effort in changing these things, such that I would please God, and He would, in turn, heal me?
Oh what futile thoughts, and what futile efforts! After some time, though, with the honing, humbling, and and final admission that I was helpless to do anything to change the circumstances of my life all accomplished, I was left without a direction or purpose to my pain.
I had confessed every sin, I had righted every wrong, changed all that I had perceived needed to be changed. Why was God leaving me in such misery? Why would He not heal me?
Perhaps it is at this point, when I had struggled without result, striven without healing, and prayed without answer, that I came to my lowest point. Driven into a deep depression, and without the hope of answers, or a cure to my physical illness, I surrendered all that I had to God. I told Him to take me from this world. I was no good to anyone, and if God thought He would create a mission in the miserable existence I had, well He was wrong! I could see no use to my suffering, and viewed myself as a hindrance to my family and friends. There was no meaning in this, it was just miserable suffering and pain without end.
On my knees and at my wits’ end, I offered all of this up to God on His altar. This time I did not receive silence, but rather a very simple, powerful sentence. “There now you understand what I want,” and I did.
God did not want me to ask why He had done this to me. He did not want me to confess my miserable life. He did not want me to seek a ministry in my pain. What he wanted me to understand was that each and every minute of my life required the support of God’s powerful hand. I literally could not take a breath, or walk a step without Him.
Since that time, I have not healed. In fact my health has declined, and each new diagnosis brings me closer to my own mortality. I am, however, more able to deal with what each day brings. I do not struggle against God asking why, but rather work with God asking how.
I look back at that time of darkness in my life with some regret. I spent a lot of time spinning against God’s will by trying to answer questions that were irrelevant. I will continue to struggle against God with my sinful nature. I will also require more lessons in life that will hone my walk as a Christian. But I am determined now more than ever to lean on Him for each answer.
Perhaps what I have gone through is something everyone with chronic illness will have to, but if I can save any of you the frustration of this journey, in these few words, then my time has not been wasted.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them…yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”
1 Corinthians 15:10
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