I have suffered with weak health most of my life. As a child I had asthma and there were many times when I couldn’t breathe. In my teens I was diagnosed with many food allergies and had to undergo some difficult dieting to maintain health. Throughout my twenties I was blessed with fairly good health except for bouts of irritable bowel syndrome which is never much fun to deal with. In my thirties I suffered from hepatitis and it took many years for my liver enzymes to return to normal. I actually spent a year in bed as a result of the hepatitis. It took years to return to some form of good health. Then in my forties while living in Germany I had a serious bout with pancreatitis and hepatitis both. As a result my immune system seemed to crash and I spent another year in bed. Years went by before I began to feel good health once more. I still suffer from seasonal allergies and irritable bowel syndrome. Thankfully I have learned to manage the symptoms but there are times when I really suffer still. Coping with a chronic illness is never fun and certainly not easy to talk about. But there are some major things that God has taught me during my seasons of ill-health.
I think this is the very first lesson I learned during times of bed rest. And there have been many times, while recuperating from surgeries to pregnancies to major illnesses. I have spent years in bed on doctor’s orders. God always got my attention by slapping me flat on my back in a bed somewhere! And I learned that God loves time with me, with all of us, and that during the times I lay in bed I could still praise Him and be a servant to His kingdom. How, you may ask?
First of all, I learned to be a Prayer Warrior. When you have nothing but time on your hands, one can only take so much television until you become bored. I learned to utilize this time by praying for others. Of course I have always been a person that prayed a lot. After all, in the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we are reminded to rejoice.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, ( ESV).
It is so easy to rejoice when we are in good health and life is full of good things and it is really easy to give thanks during such times. But it takes a little more effort to rejoice and be thankful while enduring chronic illness. That is why we need to pray. And notice that we are to “pray without ceasing!” I learned to use my time in bed as a time to lift others as well as myself to the Lord in prayer.
I have a good friend that travels a lot with her job as well as with various missions projects that she is involved with. She reminded me not so long ago that she believed my prayers for her safety have been what keep her safe while traveling. She said that she has not had problems with all the miles she drives. The one car accident she was involved in was a true illustration of how prayers had protected her in the crash. She should have been killed and yet she walked away with bumps and bruises. She is convinced that my prayers have aided her. She has traveled miles and miles in the United States as well as various countries, alone at times, and on unfamiliar railways or airplanes and yet she has not lost her luggage or had anything stolen. Once again she attributes her good fortune to many prayers that go up for her. I am but one of her Prayer Warriors.
Prayer has become such a part of my everyday life that I don’t even realize I am praying sometimes. I just see a need and pray for a good outcome. I remember when I was a young person an old Sunday School teacher told her class I attended that if you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about someone you haven’t thought of in years to pray for them. She said that if you are awake and going about your daily tasks and think of someone unexpectedly to pray for them. She reminded us that we don’t have to know what the need is but when God places someone in our minds we are to pray for them as they may very well be in need of our prayer. I believe she was right and my lifetime of prayers for others is a testament to the truth of what she shared. I pray for many people but I never have prayed as fervently as I did while lying flat on my back in bed because of some illness. Those times gave me enough time to pray for former classmates, for my family, for people I knew but had lost contact with, for various situations, for salvation of people I barely knew or didn’t know at all, for peace, for the postal worker, and for so many more. It seems to me that during those difficult times of lying in bed God used me to pray for people I wouldn’t have thought about had I been mobile and active.
Something else that I have learned from chronic illness is to lean upon God for relief. Pills are fine and often a necessity, but real pain relief is from the Lord. Earthly physicians can only do so much but God can do so much more. Here is a reminder that we can count on when ill.
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” Mark 2:17 (ESV).
Of course in this verse Jesus was speaking of spiritual illness rather than physical, but I believe that Jesus is the Great Physician and can cure both. For some people their sins are dragging them down so much that it is affecting their health. If they can find release from their sins often their health will improve. Mine did. Stress can cause diseases and stress can be caused by unrepentant or unresolved sins. Think about that for a moment. Do you have some unresolved issues from the past that are weighing you down or stressing you out? Confess them to the Lord and let them go.
Being flat on my back during long stretches of illness gave me time to reflect on my own life and sins and time to ask for forgiveness. I leaned on Jesus for not only the next breath often times, but also for the hope of one day being healed enough to live a normal life. Thankfully God granted my desire and today I am living a relatively normal life. But even if God had left me in the bed of illness I would continue to praise Him because I know that God has been so gracious to me.
I have also learned to be kind to others. When one is so ill the smallest kindnesses can be so appreciated. Brushing my hair was something that my girls were glad to do for me when I was unable to brush my own hair. Having someone cook a meal for my family because I was unable to was also a kindness that I appreciated so much. Every card and letter saying someone was praying for me and my family meant so much to me. I have tried to remember to be kind to others whether I know them or not because I know the value of having someone’s kindness toward me. As they say today, “Pay it forward!”
If you are dealing with a chronic illness I challenge you to become a Prayer Warrior. So many people in our world today have little time to pray. Many of our Prayer Warriors have passed away and our families need prayers, our country needs prayers and our neighborhood and church needs prayers. Think of those who are far from home and pray for them or pray for missionaries even if you don’t know their names. God knows who they are and what they need so pray that God will seek them out and fill their needs.
I also challenge you to rejoice, sing a song in your head or listen to Christian music. Fill your heart to overflowing with rejoicing. There is something about rejoicing that soothes the spirit and quiets the soul. And learn to give thanks to God in everything; not just the good things you have but include all the nasty stuff in your life and thank God for it all.
I remember my young son and I having a conversation a few years ago about what he had learned in his Sunday School class that day. He told me that he had learned we were to give thanks to God for everything and reminded me that I needed to thank God for the divorce. Wow! Out of the mouths of babes…but that is what the verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands us to do. I did thank God for the divorce and I can see the value of giving thanks in all things. I hope you can too.
Until next time…..Katherine