As you are reading this post, I’m sleeping deeply under general anesthesia.
For the third time in eight years, I’m having surgery in an attempt to undo the mess that my body has made in attacking itself over and over. The first time, I was twenty-seven and a new mom. Still bonding and getting to know the baby we had adopted, I was afraid of missing time with him while I recovered. The second time, I was afraid because one small complication would render me sterile—a step beyond my already fragile infertile status. The third time is only a charm because I know what to expect, and by that I mean expect nothing and everything.
Like anyone with a chronic illness, I’ve learned to use my good days for work and my bad days for rest. I’ve even planned out my post-op recovery time. There are some back issues of a favorite magazine to catch up on, a stack of library books that I need to read before my late fees reach embarrassing amounts, and I’ve got some articles to edit before submitting them. I’ll nap in between broadening my intellectual horizons.
What will actually happen is I’ll sleep an inordinate amount of time while my mother and husband take care of my kids. When I’m awake I’ll alternately watch Netflix and stare at the water stain on the ceiling, ruminating on whatever the outcome of the surgery turned out to be, all the while knowing that surgery number four is already looming in the distance when my kids are a bit older and I’m a bit more tired.
The trouble with being human is that we’re human.
Mere mortals, we cannot tell our bodies to stop when the immune system fires on itself. We don’t have control when cancer cells break down a previously healthy body, when brain tumors make their dramatic presence known, when Alzheimer’s ravages the mind, when living long really just means barreling closer toward death with every aching joint. The trouble is that we have no control, and from the moment we’re born we’re inching closer to the end with each passing day.
I find it incredibly frustrating and humbling to have to bend to the host of autoimmune diseases that can wreck my day in an instant. But I have no choice when it comes to stopping the breaking of the human body, only in how I respond to the wreckage. How I respond is everything when it comes to moving from mere mortal captive to her body to follower of Jesus who will live forever.
So, as I’m recovering and dealing with the fallout of disease, here are the things I’m reminding myself to keep my eyes fixed on what is eternal.
Every pain-filled day is a groaning for Christ’s return.
In Romans 8, Paul says that the earth groans in anticipation of the coming day of Christ. We also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (8:22-23) It is not a bad thing to groan. Most of us are much consumed with present life and business. I am more earthly-minded than I should be, but pain is a reminder that Jesus will return and redeem and make all things new. There is blessing in being reminded that we are chaff.
Every opportunity to complain can become an opportunity to learn how to persevere.
“Consider it joy, my brothers, when you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
What I love about James’ passage is the given nature of trials. When, not if. And though the Christians he wrote to were enduring persecution for following Christ, how blessed we are that he grouped trials of “various kinds” in with the necessary process of perseverance. Holding fast to joy in Christ means holding fast to the belief that we will be set free from all suffering when we see Jesus face to face. Until then, it is a worthy battle to fight against unbelief by reminding ourselves that we are secure in the love of God, even when we walk through valleys of shadow and death. He is with us.
Waiting to be well can be an education in longing for Christ.
At the bottom of the yearning to be whole is the longing for completeness in Christ. Though I have experienced seasons of healing and have hope for future times of relief, I know that my body will always be the rope in a game of tug-of-war between pain and relief. What I want is to be well, but a life without any suffering may not be the best way for the Lord to sanctify me. I think of when my disease was at its worst, and I know that Jesus was as near as my own breath. I do not want to live in that kind of daily pain again, but I wouldn’t trade the lesson of clinging to him minute by minute for anything. In thumbing through those years in my memory, I can see the integral stretching of my faith in the nights I paced the floor in stooped over pain, body on fire, breathlessly crying out to God. I learned to long for Christ on those dark, fiery nights. He never failed to be present in my pain.
Every manifestation of disease can remind me that my worth is bound up in Jesus. I am not my disease, nor am I a victim of it.
I belong to Christ. While the vise of pain feels strong some days, my heart is mastered only by the authority of Christ. Though there are times when I cannot be or do what I desire, I will not become a victim of my circumstances. Instead, I will fight bitterness by seeking the ways God can use my struggles for his glory and my good. (Rom. 8:28) He is able to make something from nothing (Gen. 1). Imagine what he can draw from the well of our physical suffering!
Suffering teaches me empathy for the suffering of others.
God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:4) This is the beauty of finding purpose in pain. There is ministry that comes from suffering, and by it we operate in the way we were meant to as the Body.
The conversations I’ve had with people in various trials have been precious and weighty when I can draw from my own memory of pain and encourage them from that place. When we seek to “weep with those who weep,” (Rom. 12:15) we must fight the temptation to “one-up” a brother or sister’s suffering by expounding upon our own. What we should do, however, is promise them that God is near. We can hold their hands and pledge to help them hold on tight to the steadfast love of God, though tears drip down both our faces. Comfort is not the absence of sorrow. It is presence in sorrow. Comfort is not the absence of sorrow. It is presence in sorrow. Click To Tweet
Every longing to be healed reminds me that this is not my home.
There will be no endometriosis in heaven. My spine won’t be worn down with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I won’t fear the onset of uveitis when I get a headache behind my eyes because there will be no fear, headaches, or uveitis. There will be no tears over barren wombs that do nothing more than collapse with disease. No more brain fog or chronic fatigue.
There will be no more cancer in children, no mothers with brain tumors, no aneurysms, no Alzheimer’s, no lifelong diabetes, no heart disease, no breast cancer, no rheumatoid arthritis, no unexplained illness. No suffering in heaven. None.
These days now may feel long when they are punctuated with pain, but in comparison to the glory that awaits us in heaven, they are nothing more than a breath. Until the day we are resurrected and given new bodies, we’ll remain captive to these old, broken down versions. But we hold on to the hope that one day we’ll trade in these mere mortal shells for new bodies that radiate the glory of God forever. One day we’ll trade in these mere mortal shells for new bodies that radiate the glory of God forever. Click To Tweet
Until then, we’ll remember that Jesus is our portion, and He is enough.