Can you imagine what it would be like to live on a submarine? According to an article I recently read, some civilian submarines have windows – technically called “viewports” – but when the submarine is deep underwater, all you see when you look out is blackness. Without artificial light, the crew on a submarine would be unable to function.
Trying to live with chronic illness solely on human perspective can be compared to living on a submerged submarine without any artificial light. To make sense of our lives when we are struggling with the pain and limitations of chronic illness, we need the light of God’s Word to push out the darkness. Having God’s perspective is like having a periscope that allows us to see beyond the darkness and obstacles in our path and navigate safely toward our destination.
As we continue with this year’s focus on reclaiming our lives after a chronic illness diagnosis, today I wanted to focus on the truth that sometimes we need to let go of our life plan and embrace the life we have been given. The first steps to reclaiming our lives when chronic illness and the limitations it causes don’t go away are acceptance of what is and trust that God really does love us and knows what is best for us.
As a young child, my dream was to be a teacher. After finishing high school, I enrolled in a state college in my home state of Maryland and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. During this time, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was confident I was right where the Lord wanted me. My plan was to teach kindergarten, which I did for two years before I heard the Lord calling me to attend Bible college, where I met my husband Mitch.
My life plan was to get married, find another teaching job in Texas where I was now living, and continue living out my dream of being a teacher. But it wasn’t long before we faced a major obstacle.
My husband and I, with our toddler Teresa, were on a trip to see some friends in Fort Worth and pick up some construction supplies for Mitch’s boss, when a drunk driver ran into our vehicle and forever changed our lives. My husband came out with a cracked rib and knee, and lacerations on his face and knees, but Teresa and I weren’t quite so lucky. Teresa did not survive the accident, and my doctor told Mitch that, if I survived, I might never walk again. Though we mourned the loss of our precious daughter, God was gracious and I did survive. Though the injuries I received in this accident were the beginning of a battle with degenerative arthritis and neuropathy, I was able to walk without assistance for many years.
In 1977, our daughter Amy was born, and when she was four years old I was able to return to teaching, this time in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program our church started. The following summer our son David was added to the family. We quickly noticed David had an unusual sensitivity to light, but we weren’t worried about his health.
When David was around three months old, we decided to move to Houston where Mitch’s family lived. A couple weeks later, we took him in to see a new pediatrician. She was extremely concerned that something was wrong, and before the day was over David was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for neurological testing.
To cut the story short, David was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development and left him unable to do anything for himself. Now we were facing an obstacle that was so big we had no idea how we would navigate it. It truly felt like we were in a submarine, deep underwater, and unable to see beyond the darkness and obstacles ahead.
I could go on and tell you about the next thirty-four years, which ended with the Lord taking David home to be with Him last November, but this is enough of my story to help you understand that my life definitely has not turned out the way I planned.
To continue functioning, my husband and I had to release the life we had pictured when we first married and to embrace the life we had been given. So how is this possible? Here are some steps to take, along with a few Scriptures that have helped me navigate this path that was so far from what we had planned. (All verses are in ESV)
• We must choose to let go of the past and turn our focus on the future.
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13b-14
• Remember God more highly values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
• Do you feel like outwardly your body seems to be “wasting away”? Is chronic illness the “thorn in the flesh” that you’ve begged God to take away? For me, God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle Paul.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
• Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10
• Finally, while Jesus has already defeated the enemy, we won’t experience the full effect of His victory until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Until that time, let’s hold on to the promise that it won’t always be like this.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:3-4
Are you still mourning what you’ve lost from chronic illness? Are you struggling to embrace the life you’ve been given and begin moving forward? If so I hope you will join me in the following prayer.
Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me. You know this is not what I had in mind for my life. But for now at least, it is reality. I will not lose heart, even though it feels like my body is wasting away. I believe Your grace is sufficient for me, even in this situation. I will be content with weakness and hardships, because when I bring You my weakness You replace it with Your strength.
Father, I recognize life on this fallen earth is a battle. I have an enemy, the devil, who wants to devour me. Help me to be sober-minded and watchful, to recognize his attacks and resist him as I stand firm in my faith.
Lord, thank You that Jesus has already defeated the devil by His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This time of suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom. Then there will be no death or mourning, no crying or pain. These will have passed away never to be again. Until that time, help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.