The Strength of the Chronically Ill
(originally shared on Write Stuff)
There are a number of people I know who are currently suffering from chronic illness. Chronic illness is dealing with a sickness, a disorder, or something of that nature that won’t go away. It’s with you every day.
Those of us who do suffer from chronic illness may experience many symptoms that are not always readily apparent to others. Daily pain, irritation, tiredness, fevers, tingling sensations, mental lapses, depression, and worst of all, hopelessness. Although hopelessness is not limited to those of us who have chronic illness, for just the purposes of this article, I’m going to be discussing my understanding of it here.
After all, as of this writing, I do not suffer from a chronic illness. Through my career as a podcast host, I have had the honor and pleasure to interview many people who do. A pattern of I’ve noticed with those who have chronic illness is the fact they know how to fake it. When asked how are they doing, more often than not, they smile (or grimace) and say, “Fine.”
The truth of the matter is that they are NOT fine. They are hurting. For some, they don’t LOOK sick. They put on make-up, brush their hair, take a bath or a shower, smell good, go to work, go to church, sing in the choir, mop the floors, etc. But they’re not FINE. Most days, they’re anything but FINE. Even as they’re smiling, they’re being lashed by pain across their nerve cells. While they’re walking, nausea fills their stomach or an acidic bitter taste coats the back of their throat.
At night, they can at least be more open about their pain. Is it because in the darkness, no one is there to see the tears, the hopelessness, the anguish? Not to mention the prayers, the wishes for their chronic illness to just go away.
What’s worse than having a chronic illness? Hearing these statements:
“You’re not really sick.”
“If you’re sick, you’re not doing X or Y. If you do X and Y, then you’ll be better.”
“You need to pray harder.”
“Your faith is what is keeping you from being well.”
Newsflash: those statements aren’t helping. These will.
Do you really think those who suffer from chronic illness HAVEN’T had these thoughts? Do you really think they haven’t prayed, tried the new medicines, the new treatment, the new oil? Do you really think they haven’t tried to think positive or haven’t entertained the thought they maybe it’s all in their heads?
My heart has been heavy for those of us who suffer from chronic illness. So very heavy. They are braver than those of us who are “well” because they have not let themselves stop living. They could and maybe their quality of life is limited due to their illness but here’s the thing — they’re still ALIVE and KICKING.
It may be a weak kick. Sometimes, it may even be from lying down in bed for weeks at a time. It may be their bodies are wracked with pain, with tingles, and fevers. It may be their wallets are empty from the medications that alleviates the pain. It may be the supplements are too expensive or the naturopathic treatments are only managing the illness but not curing it. It may be from isolation because their immune systems are MIA.
They have not given up the fight yet. They’re like boxers in the ring — no matter they keep getting knocked down on their backs, they scramble back up, spit, and stare into the cold eyes of their illness with unwavering determination and say, “Is that all you got?”
The chronically ill are stronger because when no one would blame them for giving up, they refuse to. They are, in fact, stronger than most of us.
I’ve been talking more so about my thoughts and admiration for those I know who are chronically ill. But let me give you my source of inspiration.
I have to go back to the Bible and to scripture. The narrative of when the apostle Paul went to the Lord about a ‘thorn in his flesh’. The apt phrase of ‘a thorn in the flesh’ is one of the best, in my opinion, to describe chronic illness. He went to the Lord more than once and asked Him to remove it.
“And he [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul’s response could have been sulkiness. He could have left the faith and said, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m HURTING. Don’t you get it!”
Instead, Paul says this: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong”
(For full context and discussion, please read 2 Corinthians 12:1–10)
The scientific and medical communities are doing all they can to help with research and methodologies to help our chronically ill brothers and sisters. Let’s do what we can to support them with our time and our money.
We look to athletes, celebrities, and political figures for inspiration. We exalt them in some manner because they’re supposedly the ones to look up to. Maybe we should look and praise the chronically ill for the inherent strength the Lord gave them.
For my brothers and sisters who suffer from chronic illness, thank you for the strength you give me. You will be in my prayers and know that you are not alone and neither are you forgotten.
I hope you’re having a good day today.