Cure Worship, Illness Gratitude, & Finding the balance between
To be thankful while you are suffering is one thing, but to be thankful for suffering….
Once in a while in the support group I administrate, there is someone who makes a statement that is so powerful, it catches me off guard and it sets my soul on fire. In truth, this isn’t a rare occurrence. I guess you could say that those suffering so deeply every single moment of the day have some profound insights to share. One thing that inspires me the most is when people say they are thankful for their illness. That is a bold statement that I believe one would never come to lightly- and no one would EVER openly say something so provocative in a support group setting among a band of individuals with severe chronic diseases, unless they truly meant it. That’s why it always gives me pause whenever I hear such powerful expressions.
It’s not unusual for those who go through a near death experience or a serious short term illness to find deeper meaning and purpose. It’s no less real, but it is more common when the storms have an end, and suffering can be left behind. While it’s not rare for those with ongoing illness to eventually find new ways to appreciate life again, to say they are grateful for their illness, it is so much more rare in cases of chronic disease. Why? Because an illness that is daily, constant, and does not see an end- is far easier to hate than to get excited about. A condition which may be degenerative, becoming more painful and physically or mentally compromising over time, isn’t easily beloved…as you can imagine. To me, it’s almost a miracle hearing that anyone would be happy or thankful that they became so sick. Others with chronic illness can find statements like these offensive, even. These ideas of “illness gratitude” certainly border on the extreme, but make one wonder where their personal journeys have lead them to truly embrace their infirmities.
I’ve heard people claim to be thankful they are in pain and chronically ill because it transformed their lives. It made them see the world in a different light. Their conditions allowed them to shake off the clutter and stress of a life that they realized didn’t have substance, and focus on a life of greater meaning and value. They once believed losing their career meant losing their purpose, but I’ve spoken to those who say that they are so thankful they became ill because now they found their true calling. Some have said that their new life of chronic illness has enabled them to be there for people in ways they never could have in their “healthy” life, so they are forever thankful for their new sick bodies, and how useful they can be to others through deeper compassion and connection. Sometimes people are grateful they are in pain because it has brought them closer to their faith, and they cherish a higher spiritual connection they never could have had without constantly being pushed to the edge of what they can endure. They are forced to cling to God instead of their own strength, and in that comfort, they find gratitude for suffering that brought them more enrichment spiritually.
Again, these are extreme statements, but thought provoking and inspiring nonetheless!
Most often, people I encounter long for a cure or pray to be healed. That’s normal, and that’s not at all unhealthy. Research in psychology equates the loss of health or a limb to losing a family member or spouse passing away. It’s earth-shattering. The losses just keep coming. With chronic illness, the grief starts over again and again. It’s cavernous, and there’s no end to the emotional roller coaster or the physical fight. Hoping for a cure, for healing, or for remission is what we all are desperate for, and that focus can at times become crucial for survival. But for some of us, restoration of health becomes a worship in itself, and begins to supersede everything else. Seeking a cure or healing can become such a focus that illness becomes nothing but a betrayal of God, of government, of doctors, and family. Nothing feels real except wellness and full restoration.
Obviously these are 2 opposite sides of the spectrum, and balance is always the goal.
When I was diagnosed at 22, I spent the first years asking God WHY? Staying up every night in excruciating pain, my leg felt as though it was breaking, nerves like being electrocuted and burning pain like nothing I could have ever imagined before. Full body spasms, tremors, the room spinning, my heart racing and palpitating, wondering how I had planned and worked so hard for everything that had lead me here, just to lose it to this “incurable degenerative” condition that no one seemed to be taking very seriously to help me try recover from. It didn’t make any sense. As much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t crack the code. It only made sense for me to get better, so I searched for my panacea, and prayed (demanding) that God must heal me. At the time, I wasn’t a big prayer person, but illness has a way of connecting you to your higher power. In the Bible, yes, there is healing, but there is also so much pain. The importance of learning through pain, finding ways to share strength or comfort inside of infirmities, these are scriptures that have been so encouraging to me.
I eventually felt lead to make a decision. I believed God would heal me, and I still do believe that is true. But, I decided that if I was going to spend any period of time living a “sick life” I was going to explore it. As much as I was desperate to go back in time, moving forward is all I could do, it’s all any of us can do- Even if it’s slowly, frightened, and with tears in our eyes.
I cannot go as far as saying that I am thankful I am chronically ill. I can say that at almost 12 years, I’m so grateful I made that decision to press forward and try to find myself inside of this life. If I had stayed so distracted by my past, or so focused on what I might be losing in the future, I would have missed every bit of the beauty, the miracles, the blessings, the generosity of others, the opportunities to be of use, and purpose found inside of this pain.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19
Posted on June 6, 2016, in Christian, Chronic Illness, Chronic Pain, Gratitude, RSD/CRPS, Spiritual Journey, Transformation, Uncategorized and tagged christian, Chronic Illness, Chronic Illness Faith, Chronic pain, disability, disabled, finding peace, gratitiude, how to live with chronic pain, inspirational, neurological, Spoonie, verses for chronic pain, Young Spoonie. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.
What powerful words indeed. And images. You didn’t spare the pain in the images. I know chronic pain and fatigue taught me to rest and stop when I could not go on anymore. It forced me to and in order to keep taking care of the people and values that matter and mattered, I am and was thankful for learning that. I am especially when I see my dedicated friend teachers who just can’t say no and I am the one telling them they should maybe take a break. I find it ironic coming from the one who is so crippled. So yes that does help keep me from my perfectionism and selflessness taking over everything and leaving me empty.
But indeed like you say, I can’t be grateful for the scale of this pain and isolation and tragedy. Hell no! I agree that it’s like losing a spouse so I’d never want to lose my husband. However I understand some may actually be getting out of bad marriages due to it or mindless living. But I’d still take a mindless job and do my best for the chance to go out in the sun.
I think those statements are all relative and I’m so glad you address the fact of how much people hang onto religion and God once it happens to explain and make sense of the pain. To have hope and support. I find confort myself as well but not in a religious way.
In glad you keep going. I still ask myself why because things are still getting worst for me right now too fast. I am however afraid to ask too much because I keep being let down by Life and my heart is so fragile. What if I break? I also keep going and don’t want to stay put because then it would be sure failure. So no, except for teaching me to care for my family in the present moment and to let go instead of struggling, I can’t say I am grateful. Still want to punch someone in the face for this lol
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I’m so sorry you are down a spiral of getting worse, even as you cling to all of your excellent resources you’ve always known to help you cope. I know you would trade all of the fighting and struggle for a boring life in the workplace!
You telling your teacher friends to give themselves permission to rest, even though you are the “crippled” one, reminds me of the quote by Sir William Osler, “If you want to live a long life, get a chronic disease and learn how to take care of it.” There is so much we learn about caring for our bodies in the desperation of chronic illness. You and I might call it being a “health nerd” but this is the wisdom that can be valuable to our loved ones. Not only when they are feeling ill, but to help them find balance in their lives like you have been trying to do with your friends. I hope they listen to your advice. Of anyone they know, you likely have the best insight for them having lived their lives, and also a “sick life” as well.
Sometimes, it’s also ok to allow ourselves to break and fall apart so we can rest and replenish strength once again. You are a strong warrior every single day. If anyone can punch chronic illness in the face, it’s you! I’m thankful to be in the fight alongside you.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment!
What group do you admin? I’m looking for more groups that can provide inspiration along these lines. Lyme is a living hell but I would not want to go back to who I was before it. I needed to be flattened in order to pay attention. I was completely asleep with no spiritual connection prior to becoming ill, and I had no connection with my son. I’ve been finding more and more resources where people describe personal transformation as a result of chronic illness. I need to write a post along these lines, maybe soon. Good to hear from you.
It’s good to hear from you! It’s surprising to hear that now from reading your blog.
I would love to invite you to our chronic pain community. I’ll link a couple additional groups that you might also enjoy. They aren’t Lyme, but they all welcome chronic illness of all types.
My/Our community is: http://www.facebook.com/living.with.rsd
This one I enjoy is Chronic Illness Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1437026919903755/
Changing the World when you are disabled, chronically ill, or homebound. Great group of people! https://www.facebook.com/groups/906923442675408/
I hope this might be a good place to start. I’m so sorry your life is flattened. I understand that sentiment and hate it for you. Heart hugs going out to you, Mary
Thank you for you compassion. Which part surprised you? That I had become so spiritually disconnected, or that my life had been flattened? I’m just curious…
Thank you for the links! I will definitely check them out and I bet others who stop by your blog will benefit as well. Chronic illness is chronic illness, Lyme or otherwise and I think many experiences are similar amongst those of us who are suffering. The loss of ability and identity, the lack of validation from the medical community and friends/family, and trying to stay above the deep murky waters of hopelessness are things we all experience. Thank goodness for the Internet in its ability to connect us in a supportive fashion!
Heart hugs back to you Mary,
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You are absolutely right! I don’t know what I would do without the community offered online. Nearly 12 years ago when I was first diagnosed, it was like an underground network, and now “spoonies” and groups are everywhere! I think it’s wonderful for us, as well as the awareness it raises.
I thank you for your question regarding groups, as anyone else reading may also need additional groups to plug into.
What I was referring to before was that I was surprised, after reading your blog, that you had been feeling so spiritually disconnected. Maybe your writing is so rich that I get a sense of your soul speaking loudly, and that may be the spiritual connection I relate with. Flattened, however…yes, loss seems to go hand in hand with high impact chronic illness. My heart goes out to you, and all of the loss you’ve been forced to face. I feel as though my life is a chalk board which has been wiped clean. As much as I can, I try to imagine that as “starting fresh” in the best light I’m able to, but that takes constant mental work. Staying above those “waters of hopelessness” that you eloquently phrased takes everything we have. I’m so thankful warriors like you are alongside to go the journey together. Heart hugs, Mary
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Thanks for your response Mary. That makes me feel good that you could hear my soul speaking through my writing. Really really good. I fight the same fight everyday, trying to stay above those deep waters. I’m thankful for you Mary. Hugs right back, Tina
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I’m thankful for you, and for this message making me feel less alone today. This month in particular is taking all I’ve got. I don’t know if I’ve managed to stay above water, but it’s good to at least be in the swimming pool with people who understand ❤ Hugs xo
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I understand. I have also been struggling to stay above water. Yesterday I was thinking about what a lonely desolate path that chronic illness can be. But I was able to remind myself that there are other people (so many) experiencing what I’m experiencing. There is something positive about connecting to the collective mind of US. Hugs to you too, Tina
Me again! I was watching Leo Buscaglia yesterday and stumbled upon a story that directly relates to this subject. https://youtu.be/aB1Rz-N03cQ?t=24m52s At 24min 52 seconds he talks about receiving a letter from a young woman newly diagnosed with cancer and who suddenly, for the first time, discovered herself… even if she did not survive. That reminded me very much of my own father who died of brain cancer and for whom the shock of learning he might die (we didn’t know he’d ultimately die) shocked him out of his shell. He really changed for the better and those were memorable years as well as emotionally charged years. I also gained so much. Of course I’d never want him to die, it was tragic how after waking up he had to die. But in a way, he saved me because I also woke up as a young teenager who was shaping up to be just like him, just as rigid and perfectionist as he was. If not for him, I wouldn’t have learned psychological flexibility of the mind and to give myself a break when all goes wrong. To be compassionate when I can’t go on as my body fails me. I was so uptight, I know it would have shocked me too much. But having had had his example, and having been shocked myself from how better he felt from being flexible and forgiving towards himself, it allowed me and still allows me to go through the worst today. So yes, in that way, that terrible way, tragedies come with blessings. I don’t know if they are blessings but they are certainly not all dark.
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Thank you so much for sharing your heartbreaking experience, and the enlightening but tragic journey you went through together with your father.
I am so sorry for the loss of your dad to brain cancer. Losing him after discovering that new version of him surely changed your life forever.
I love your words, “tragedies come with blessings,” that’s a perfect way to say it.
Thank you again for sharing your personal memory of your father. I’m so touched you would share that with me ❤
I was never grateful I had cancer and I actually got quite annoyed with people so intent on finding the silver lining, as if I wasn’t grateful before for the wonderful life I had. Yes, my outlook on things has changed somewhat, I approach certain situations differently and I am more aware of my mortality. The experience has certainly taught me lessons about myself and I fully accepted what happened to me but I could have done without it. I believe finding grace and gratitude even in the face of pain and illness is a coping mechanism, and some good can certainly come of it. But, given the opportunity to erase the suffering, how many would choose not to?
Lovely post. It makes my pressing through the pain journey a bit easier knowing people like yourself, who inspire me. Especially when I need to be moving with the fear I have on the days I struggle. ❤