“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” (Proverbs 31:25 NIV)
I read the verse and my heart twinged. Chronic illness made every single part of that verse feel like it could never apply to me.
Laughing at the days to come? Nope.
Is it okay that I didn’t feel strong? Is it right that I’ve lost my dignity? Is it wrong? How in the world can I be clothed with strength and dignity when I feel so completely weak and undignified because of chronic illness?
Strength in Our Utter Weakness
One of the most common compliments I’ve received since becoming chronically ill is “You’re so strong.” But the thing nobody seems to know is that I lost my strength many months ago . . . my mental, physical, and emotional strength are simply non-existent.
How is one supposed to be clothed in strength when they can’t even sit up or feed themselves? I find the answer is in a Scripture God has brought me to so many times throughout my sickness: “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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)
Maybe what Proverbs 31:25 means by ‘clothed with strength,’ is, ‘clothed with God’s strength.’ We may be weak, but God isn’t. His power is made perfect in weakness!
Weaknesses are human. It’s inevitable. But we can find our strength in God.
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV)
Dignity Doesn’t Come From Physical Ability
I lost my dignity when I couldn’t tie my shoes, or read, or add seven plus four, or remember my friend’s name, or how old I am. I lost my dignity when I had to quit something I said I would do and when I sat naked, propped up on the shower stool while my mom shaved my legs for me because I couldn’t. If we think along the same lines of being clothed in God’s strength, though, this also makes so much more sense! We may have lost all of what we consider our dignity, but it’s really God’s glory we want to be showing the world, and be clothed in, right?
“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” (1 Chronicles 16:28 NIV)
We want to be clothed in God’s dignity, even if the world may not necessarily see it as dignity. Somehow, despite all of those indignities I suffered and the way my reputation changed after I became chronically ill, God was glorified.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV)
I am able to lift my head high — metaphorically, since I’m too weak to do so literally — because I know that my dignity didn’t come from my physical abilities but from my identity as God’s daughter.
Laughing at the Days to Come
As for laughing at the days to come, right now I feel more like the Psalmist in Psalm 73:14 (NIV): “All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.”
It’s hard to laugh when every morning brings new pain. When even getting out of bed is a huge act of willpower. When every breath hurts, but you push through anyway. When depression eats away at your soul and lies threaten your sanity. Where is the laughter in that? Even if every morning brings new pain, though, guess what else every new morning brings?
“Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” (Isaiah 33:2 NIV)
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)
It’s so much easier to fear, isn’t it, when every morning brings new pain? The thing is, the fear is not the truth.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)
We are not supposed to be chained by fear! We are God’s children! We have full confidence in Him, that He will protect and carry us through everything. In Him, we have the power to choose joy, to choose to smile and laugh at the day He has given us as a gift to be a part of, rather than cower and be afraid.
I’m not saying it’s an easy choice. Joy is a battle. True laughter is still a struggle every single day, and it’s something I have to intentionally choose. There are days when all I can do is weep, and that’s okay too. But despite all the hard parts of chronic illness, we need not fear the future. I say this as someone who has looked death in the eyes because of my chronic illness. And that isn’t something I will ever be able to forget.
Yet I choose to laugh at the days to come, rejoicing in the blessings they hold — even though I know they will be filled with pain.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
*Adapted from blog post published on sgwilloughby.com in January 2017. **Used with permission.
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Author and Chronic Joy® Ministry Partner
Sara is the author of He’s Making Diamonds: A Teen's Thoughts On Faith Through Chronic Illness and the founder of the annual Diamonds Conference for chronically ill Christians. She loves to write and have adventures - be it a new board game with her family, trying a weird food, or diving into a fantasy book. Sara is a TCK, a Lymie, and a Young Life Leader. She is also a Chronic Joy Contributing Writer and a #PenToPaper Ambassador.