Sickness and disease are a part of the human experience. Often, for reasons we can’t explain, some people endure a greater dose of unfortunate unhealthiness in their lifetimes. We all face illness to some extent. From the common cold to colitis to cancer, there is short-term and long-term suffering all around us. It gives us the opportunity to share our burdens, care for our loved ones, and reflect on how we can persevere in such difficult times.
While I believe that most illness can be prevented and healed through real food nutrition, stress reduction, physical movement, and natural medicine, this post is not about those everyday decisions. We have free choice, yes. But ultimately, we do not have control over the final outcome of illness. Our lives are in the Creator’s hands. (Psalm 31:15) This post, rather, is about how we respond mentally and spiritually during times of illness.
I’ve developed three do’s and three don’ts, not to be trite, but because bullet points help us remember important truth. As we navigate through the rough waters of sickness, I want us to experience a hope-filled perspective through renewed thinking. I pray you are encouraged by dwelling on “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely.” (Philippians 4:8) Please know that I write this post with some understanding of what illness feels like, especially chronic conditions. If you are grappling with illness, I can empathize with you on some level. Read My Health Story.
1. Don’t fear.
Fear can be more debilitating than the disease. Illness often compounds anxiety, and anxiety begets more sickness. It’s a vicious cycle. I know this from my own life experience. When I live in a state of fear, especially when contemplating the unknown or “what if’s” of life, my body clings to sickness and I heal much slower.
Instead, pray for courage. Know that you are loved. Dwell on these promises.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
2. Don’t stop taking care of yourself.
Giving up is the easy path, especially when you have a chronic illness. Letting go of your personal responsibilities, however, sets you up for mental collapse in the long run. Don’t stop eating, don’t stop sleeping, and don’t stop moving forward with your life goals.
Instead, pray for strength. Do what you can do. Yes, you are weak, but you can still take care of your body wisely with restorative activities that will build you up mentally, emotionally and physically. That doesn’t mean push yourself beyond your limits. It does mean knowing where your true strength comes from, and using that grace and support to your advantage.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
3. Don’t complain.
This, by far, is the easiest trap to fall into when facing illness. When we feel crummy, our default mode is complaining about every pain and hurt and sore. Your suffering is real and I don’t want to minimize it. But grumbling doesn’t give you hope. It often leads to selfishness and depression.
Instead, cry out to God and pray for healing! The psalmist, King David, released his sorrows to God in his darkest hours. His despair is palpable and yet, he always discovers God to be his strength and joy.
“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)
Even if your prayers seem small and fragile, God knows and understands. He has sent His Spirit to pray for you and with you!
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
1. Do be thankful.
Thankfulness leads to mental peace, even when our circumstances remain unchanged. It reminds us of our blessings and gives us hope.
Pray for contentment. Give thanks, even when you are sick. Search for the good. What positive things you have learned during your health trial? Share that encouragement with a friend.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
2. Do trust in God’s sovereignty.
We may never understand the “why.” And God may never reveal the reasons for your illness…ever. I have great peace knowing I don’t have to figure it all out. My Father in Heaven already knows the reasons. I don’t have to wrestle with endless questions. This is easier said than done, I know.
Pray for faith. Rest in knowing that God loves you. Believe He is “working all things together for your good.” (Romans 8:28)
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
“O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 131)
3. Do serve others.
As limited human beings, it’s comfortable for us to concentrate on our own problems. We become the center of attention, particularly when illness invades our lives. This is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s appropriate for us to accept help, because we truly need it! Other times, we can serve even in the midst of our own health struggles. When living with a chronic illness, (like my auto-immune thyroid condition for example), some days we feel better than others. We can look for opportunities to serve on those days! We can write a note of encouragement to a depressed co-worker, call a friend struggling with cancer, visit a family member in the hospital, or take a meal to a church member who is recovering from surgery. Or give in any number of ways not health related, like babysitting children for a couple who really need a date night or running errands for an elderly woman who can’t drive.
Pray for a heart to serve, as you are able. If you cannot do anything else, PRAY! Interceding for others in prayer is a huge ministry of service.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3-4)
If you are facing debilitating illness right now, please share in the comments, so I can be praying for you. Even though I may not know your specific pain, I’ve experienced rough patches in my own health – anemia, panic attacks, asthma, depression, chronic thyroid disorder, major digestive upsets, and severe fatigue. I know what it’s like to barely make it through a day with ten to eleven hours of sleep, plus three naps! I know what it’s like to have an anxiety attack and have your neighbors call 911 because you have no idea what’s happening in your body. I know what’s it’s like to have acute asthma, so you are forced to consciously focus on each breath – in and out, in and out. I know what’s it’s like to scratch your skin so hard from itching that you bleed. And in less than two weeks from this writing, I’m having myomectomy surgery to remove uterine fibroids that are causing infertility and all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms. I’m not telling you these things for you to feel sorry for me. I’m recounting some of my experiences so you know that you are not alone in your suffering.
Jesus Christ understands far greater than I what you are going through. He is a sympathetic High Priest, who endured the worst pain of human history. He carried my sins and your sins, and rose victorious over death. His story of love and forgiveness is the best story I can share with you! If you know Him as your personal Savior, your future is secure for all eternity. One day, “…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
My mother used to say, “This too shall pass.” I didn’t believe it then, but I do now. I’ve lived long enough to see that painful times usually pass.
And even if trials don’t pass in this life, a perfect heaven awaits those who love God.
It’s Real. Guaranteed. Forever.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)