I’m not sure just what I expected from a life with chronic illness, but if I’m honest, I’d hoped I would have something valuable to offer – like words of encouragement, answers about how to live well, a positive attitude, hope and joy oozing from my soul.
Yet in the last two months, I have been assaulted on so many fronts. The battle with chronic illness has taken on new dimensions and new depths, and instead of insights, I’m filled with more questions and uncertainty.
I refer to these questions as the 3-C’s: Compassion, Complaining and Comparison.
Compassion has a real cost. I often believe I’m OK with accepting the price for being there for others, for offering kindness and support, for being like the Energizer Bunny – going, going, going, ignoring the pain and exhaustion of body and mind to appreciate the moments of service and love I offer to others. However, when my body, mind and spirit quit, and the pain is too much, I’m left wondering, “Was I was really willing to pay the cost?”
Complaining is what I believe I’m doing when I express that I’m unwell or in pain. I think most people genuinely care, but lack true understanding. The old saying, “You’ve got to walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” seems all too accurate. And I’m left wondering, “Should I be silent or authentic?”
Comparison is another ugly trap I find myself in. I minimize this life with chronic illness, pain and limitations, and sometimes others do too, suggesting that I should be grateful, “because things could be so much worse.” I could have a more debilitating ailment. But a friend once told me, “Pain is pain.” My pain is real. And if that’s true, is comparison really helpful?
My daughter, also chronically ill, is experiencing more frequent flares while trying to lead a “normal” life. My dad had a large brain tumor removed just a month ago and yesterday started his first round of radiation and chemotherapy. My mom has suddenly been thrust into the leadership role in their marriage after 50 years of my dad being the strong one. A dear friend won’t, or maybe can’t, respond to questions about how she’s feeling, because it’s simply too hard to share the difficult reality right now.
I ask God why all these things are happening then almost immediately pause and wonder, “But why not?” We live in a fallen world. Scripture tells us, “In this world, you will have trouble.” John 16:33a
I ask God why I can’t simply be joyful. Some pray, “Search me, O God,” but today, I’m afraid of what other suffering God might allow. So instead, I’m asking myself, “What does true strength look like in the context of chronic illness?”
Two words keep creeping into my thoughts: gratitude and community.
When days are difficult, I find I’m compelled to say “thank you” for simple acts of kindness – someone holding the elevator door, a receptionist offering a warm welcome, a nurse or a doctor being patient with our endless questions.
Those two simple words change my attitude, soften my heart, and begin to shift my perspective.
Perhaps it isn’t answers that are necessary. Perhaps what really matters is sharing life whatever our circumstances.
Today we’re asking you the question, “What does strength look like in the context of chronic illness?”
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Executive Director and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy®
Pamela is a leader and a visionary following God's call to inspire those affected by chronic illness to discover hope, find purpose, embrace worth and encounter joy. She believes that every precious life affected by chronic illness is both vital and purposed.
Pamela is the mom of three married children, grandma of two sweet granddaughters and one baby grandson, and a wife of more than 30 years. She is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, chronic migraines and a host of other chronic conditions.
Pamela enjoys hot tea, reading -- almost always more than one book at a time -- and walking her teddy bear dog, Cocoa.