To understand how all the bad things that touch our lives could possibly be a source of joy, we need a basic knowledge of the effect of sin and the curse that resulted from it. The history of mankind can be divided into three time periods:
- The time right after creation, before sin entered the picture. God and man lived together in perfect harmony. God Himself described this time at the end of the six days of creation by saying, “It is all very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
- The era we currently live in, when earth is under the curse because of sin, and life includes mourning, pain, illness, and ends in death. When Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, and then through His death on the cross and resurrection, paid the full penalty for the sins of those who receive Him as Savior and Lord.
- The future time, when the present heaven and earth will have been destroyed and redeemed mankind will live with the Lord in the New Jerusalem, in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus, will not only experience freedom from the penalty of sin; they will be freed from the presence of sin. And the curse that accompanies it.
As it says of this future time in Revelation 21: 3b-4, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I look forward to an eternity spent in the presence of God and with sin and its effects wiped away. But that is still future. We still live on an earth that has been corrupted by sin. Until God destroys the present heaven and earth, and we go to live permanently in His presence on the new earth, the presence of sin will continue. And with it, the presence of pain, mourning, disease, and death. Living with chronic illness is just one part of the curse that has personally touched my life.
The Curse of Chronic Illness: My Story
At first, it looked like I had minimal lasting damage from the accident in November 1975 that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa. Though I left the hospital using a wheelchair, with my husband’s hard work making a set of parallel bars for me to use to learn to walk again, and then him being the “bad guy” and insisting that I exercise on it several times a day, I was soon walking with crutches. Before long, I was able to walk with a cane and a little later with no assistance.
But a few years later, I started having problems with arthritis, which my doctor said was “secondary to the accident.” As years have passed, my physical condition has continued to deteriorate, with new diagnoses many years. Then a couple years ago, one doctor’s office suspected that my symptoms were being complicated by neurological issues, and things started moving downhill at double-time.
Then, in July of last year (2015), my pain management doctor did an injection in my right shoulder to see if it would help the pain in the shoulder and numbness in the fingers of my right hand. But instead of helping, it made my overall condition much worse. I spent a week in bed to treat a spinal fluid leak. And when I was able to get up, I had severe pain after less than five minutes of standing or walking. The doctors were stumped. They ordered several tests, but even then had no explanation for the sudden change in my condition. I am no longer able to drive or do most of the housework, and trips out of the house usually now require using a wheelchair.
As of today, I still have no answers. I now have over twenty-five diagnoses, and since I’m still waiting to learn some of the more recent test results the list could possibly grow even longer.
Word of the Year Update
In the midst of all of this, when I was praying last December about picking a word of the year for 2016, God clearly spoke to my heart that my focus for the new year was to be joy. Frankly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But after walking with God for almost fifty years, I’ve learned that it isn’t wise to fight His leading. So I began studying Scripture and Scripture-based books about joy. It’s still January, so I have over eleven months left to focus on joy. But here are just a few of the things God has already taught me:
- Joy isn’t the same thing as happiness, which comes and goes with changes in circumstances.
- Joy isn’t affected by our outward circumstances. In fact, difficult circumstances are the ideal soil for learning to “count it all joy” (Philippians 1:2).
- Joy is closely tied to giving God thanks in all circumstances.
- Even in our desert situations, God delights to give us His gifts. We need to be sure to look for them. (God actually began teaching me this last year, during a group study with God-Living Girls, on Rachel Wojo’s book One More Step.)
- Joy is the inner assurance than everything is going to be alright in the end, because God is in control.
- Another way to cultivate joy is by praising God for who He is (His character) and what He has done (His works).
- Counting it all joy – seeing every circumstance we are facing as an ultimate source of joy – is the key to growing to spiritual maturity.
The natural response to all that I’m facing is fear and anxiety. But those who are in Christ are no longer limited to natural responses. The supernatural God lives in us, and He will work within us if we will allow Him to do so. And one of the primary ways He is working in my life during this season is through a double focus on joy and on my life purpose of writing (through #Write365). Do you think it’s a coincidence that the next study for God-Living Girls, beginning on February 1st, is entitled “Finding Joy & Purpose in Chronic Illness”? I see it as a God-incidence!