I recently came back from The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference 2018, an encouraging time with 8,000 other Christian women that challenged and grew me. “Listening In” Session: Wrestling with Chronic Illness was like a drink of cool water in the desert of my fibromyalgia. Their stories and words of wisdom not only apply to those with chronic illness but all those who are wrestling with suffering of any kind.
The session was in the question and answer format with Elicia Horton (MS), Kori Porter (Endometriosis), and Vaneetha Rendall Risner (Polio). At the beginning, each woman shared a little of their story. Some of my favorite quotes from their testimonies are:
“That didn’t catch Him off guard even though it did me,” Elicia Horton said about God and her sudden oncoming of MS, Multiple Sclerosis.
This statement exudes so much faith and trust in God. I pray that I would remember that, even though my physical difficulties may surprise me, even frustrate me, God is familiar with them and there to guide me through.
“I didn’t want pity before coming out,” Elicia Horton said about her reluctance to let her church family know about her condition.
Pity is truly a terrible result from telling someone about your illness. I understand why it is a natural inclination and feels like compassion; it isn’t. Pity includes a condescending gaze instead of an empathetic sitting with the person.
“I felt uneasy about saying how much pain I was in,” Kori Porter said about explaining her Endometriosis symptoms to doctors.
This seems to be common among those with chronic illness due to the fact that we are in pain all the time. I myself dealt with doctors not believing my pain, and, therefore, my reluctance to share my pain.
“I could not stand up during worship,” Kori Porter said.
She mentioned the guilt she felt because she couldn’t stand and the jealousy she had of others who could. This is something that I have struggled greatly with, and I find solace in the fact that I am not alone.
Here is the question and answer part of the talk:
What is our job as those who suffer from chronic illness?
These women said it well:
- Educate those around you – Many people know little to nothing about your illness. If you explain it to them, they can better minister to you and understand where you are coming from.
- If you do not want to be a burden, so you don’t ask for help, that is an issue of pride. By allowing others to minister to you, you are giving them an opportunity for joy. Do not be ashamed to admit that you need help.
- Chronic illness tends to come in the same package as a sense of guilt. Remember that it is not your fault that you have a chronic illness. You do not need to feel guilty when you can’t minister just as you would like or participate in activitities at church as you would like.
- Turn to the body of Christ. The church is a beautiful and healing place. Be filled with His love shown to you through His people.
- Remember that you are more than your pain. You are not your chronic illness. We are so much more than that. This makes me think of first-person language in special education. You have something; you aren’t that something. (ex. Elizabeth has fibromyalgia, and NOT Elizabeth is handicapped.)
Should I come to terms with my illness or pray for healing?
How did these women of faith answer? Both! They referred to passages in the Bible to explain how they came to this conclusion.
25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Kori Porter found this to be particularly comforting and Vaneetha Risner spoke about the joys and dangers of faith healing. A pastor came and healed Vaneeth Risner’s legs to be able to walk, and, to this day, she can walk even though she technically doesn’t have enough muscle mass to do so. She also spoke of a healing service she went to where the pastor laid hands on her, but nothing happened. The pastor said that she didn’t have enough faith and to come back when she did. I could hear her voice crack with emotion as she said this.
Chronic illness brings us to the end of ourselves, so much so that we desperately cling to hope, even just a garment of our Savior. We must have great faith that The Healer has the power to heal us but may not choose to do so. God chose to not even take away the suffering of His own Son in order to save His people.
42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
It is not wrong to ask God to take away suffering, even Christ did it, but it is also important to submit to His will in this. He sometimes chooses to not heal us, and, yes, even this, is good. God has used the suffering of many people for good. Joseph even says this explicitly to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Paul also mentions hows his suffering worked for good.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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.
Paul pleads with the Lord about his “thorn in the flesh” and these women of faith pointed out that God allows you to be a participant in your own healing through prayer just as Paul pleaded. The women mentioned how, when God doesn’t heal us, He gives us a deeper portion of Himself. I have found the fact that His “power is made perfect in [my] weakness” to be encouraging especially during my fibro-flare days. It is truly amazing to give up to God my weakness and see His strength work through me in ways I didn’t think possible.
What are some verses you have clung to in suffering?
Do you have a story of how you wrestled with your faith?
How have you seen God be faithful in your suffering?