When you live with a chronic illness, you soon learn that it requires you to make a plethora of unending decisions. When you reach the “D” section in your phonebook, the list of doctors seems endless. Some of these doctors are even programmed into your speed dial. Maintaining a “baseline” is important so there are tests and procedures that have to be repeated year after year after year. You experience physical pain week after week after week. There are questions and emotions that you have to battle day after day after day and sometimes moment after moment after moment.
Living with a chronic illness is exhausting. By definition it is constant, ceaseless, persistent, and unending.
One of the most challenging things for me about living with Spina Bifida is how many areas of my body it has affected. It affects my bladder, kidneys, bowels, legs, feet, nerves, and muscles. Recently it has begun to affect my neck and brain. I routinely see a neurologist, neurosurgeon, podiatrist, urologist, gastroenterologist, and physical therapist. On occasion I’ll see a shunt specialist, hematologist, and orthopedic surgeon. If I’m bored I’ll see my primary doctor.
Let me assure you that I know how exhausting it is. Especially when I stop to consider the fact that despite all of these appointments, there is no cure for my condition. Unless God decides in His infinite wisdom to heal my physical body, I will never “get better.” At most, I can attempt to maintain my current health for as long as possible.
This would be so depressing if it stopped right here.
But it doesn’t. God has provided a way for us, in chronic illness, to have chronic hope.
You see, God will use pain to develop you, but He never meant for it to define you. I have found that the days that I feel the most hopeless about my health are the days that I let my suffering become my sole focus. My whole purpose in living becomes wrapped up in trying to cure it, trying to maintain it, or trying to dull it.
On these days I have to take a step back and remind myself that God has created me to be so much more than that. I have to re-read passages in my Bible that fill me up with the hope that God is using all of this for something much bigger than I can understand. One of the things that I love about Jesus’ life is how He specifically chose people suffering with physical disabilities in order to display to the onlookers that he was the Messiah they had been waiting for. These broken lives mattered greatly to Him and they became His tools in which His glory and power shone brightly. If you’re hurting today, my prayer is that that pain brings you so much hope and encouragement!
Not only does God promise to use your pain on a large scale, but He desires to use it in a very personal way too. He wants it to become the tool with which He molds you into a person that reflects everything about His character.
What would that look like? It would look like a person who is thankful for their doctors, patient with their caretakers, loving toward their family, and even joyful during their colonoscopy. It would look like a person who shows gratitude about the function they do have rather than grumbling about their limitations. It would be a person who cries tears of deep pain, all the while knowing peace is not based on the feelings contrived by their reality, but rather on the truth that God has laid out in the Bible.
It’s a person who I have begun to ask God to make me into. It’s a person who’s living with chronic hope.
Second Corinthians 4:16-17 says,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary
troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
*First published in Just Between Us magazine, Winter, 2015
Adriana Hayes is a freelance illustrator, professor, writer, and speaker who finds joy in helping others discover how God can bring “chronic hope” into their lives. She lives in Milwaukee, Wis., with her husband, Chris, and daughter, Promise.
Photo courtesy of Robyn Vining Photography.