An Open Letter to the Chronically Ill Christian

Dear Friend, 

I’ve had chronic illness since I was born. I don’t know you, but I wanted to write this because I know that you, like me, can feel desperately alone. It’s the kind of loneliness that twists in your gut even when you are surrounded by people. It’s the kind of loneliness I felt last weekend. 

I was having my friends over. I’m grateful for my friends. I love hanging out with them. So please don’t think that what I am about to say means that I don’t enjoy being around them, or that I don’t want to be around them more. But sometimes, being with people is hard. That night we were frolicking (none too quietly I should add) in the living room. My gymnast friend and my dance friend were bending over backwards– and I suddenly felt sad. I was sad because I couldn’t do what they were doing. I was tired of being the weak one. The sick one. The “sorry I have to cancel for the upteenth time because I don’t feel good” one. I just wanted to live– normally, like the people down the street and the families at our church. I was jealous. All I could think about was how lucky they were– how amazing it must be to move and feel good while doing it. 

But there was something more going on than just coveting their ability to jump and talk and laugh past midnight. It was a deeper pain. The pain of being the only one in the room who couldn’t do those things. More than that, it was desperately wanting for one of them to understand how I felt. To know what I go through. To get it. 

I think chronic illness has to be one of the most isolating things in the world. And being a young person just seems to make it worse. As I was thinking about how I felt that night, and, consequently, this upcoming blog post, God graciously turned my eyes to Him. 

I know you’re hurting right now. I know that most likely, you, like me, just want someone to understand. So I’d like to share with you what God showed me about Himself, and more specifically, how much He really does care. 

God Understands

There’s one verse that has been a constant comfort to me as long as I can remember. It’s a verse written by David in a time of great distress. He is being hunted and his situation hangs in a delicate balance between life and death. Here’s how He describes God:

You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?

Psalm 56:8

In times of pain, this verse is a reminder to me that God sees me and cares about what I am going through. For some reason, I never really connected the dots between this verse and my desperate desire for someone to understand until recently.

Chronic suffering is, more often than not, deceptively invisible. It’s an easy thing to plaster a smile on your face at church and answer “good” and “fine” to everyone’s well meaning inquiries. My mom, who suffers with chronic illness even more than I do, went to church one time feeling awful when a well-meaning lady commented that she, “looked like she was glowing.” The irony in those words was a bitter taste in my mouth.

We are the silent ones. The unseen. The suffering warriors whose only battle cry is a desperate prayer to our God to have mercy on our pain ridden body. 

But we aren’t invisible to everyone. We aren’t invisible to God. Psalm 56:8 is a reminder that He understands. He understands because He sees it all…

… and He understands because He knows first hand exactly what it’s like to suffer. In Isaiah 53:3 Jesus is described as, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. 

Jesus may be fully God, but He is also fully human, which means that during His time on earth He could feel pain. He could be hurt. His body could be broken. His body was broken. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Pierced. Crushed. Chastised. Wounded. This is our great God. He was a lamb slain in the most brutal way imaginable. But Jesus’s body didn’t stay broken– and neither will ours. 

…In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16:33b

You may be surrounded by people who don’t get what you are going through. Your friends, and even your family, may be ignorant of your suffering. But God understands, and He has promised that it won’t be this way forever. More than that, just as He has triumphed over this world, His strength will triumph in us. 

You’re Not Alone

The worst thing about my illness isn’t the pain, or the fatigue, or the thousand other symptoms that prick holes in the weary fabric of my body; it’s the wall that it puts up between me and the outside world. It’s a wall that all of us have smashed into, oftentimes painfully, whenever we are searching for someone to understand, but it’s also a wall that the practicalities of our illness erect for us. There are so many times when we are just too sick to see other people, to go to church, or to invite someone over for dinner. It doesn’t mean we don’t care for them, or that we don’t love them. It just means that we are too darn tired. 

That’s the painful part about our relationships in this world. We’re human, and humans have limitations. This sometimes means we grow apart from certain people, not because we want to, but because we don’t have the energy to bring them closer. Our sickness binds us into unwanted isolation, and those bindings can rub raw on our wrists. 

I can’t promise that it will get better, or that you’ll ever be able to break down the walls that separate you from others, but I can promise that no wall you smash into will be able to come between you and God. God is not bound by human limitations. You can never be isolated from Him. Apostle Paul says:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

I’ve read that verse a hundred times, but just like Psalm 56:8, it wasn’t until recently that I started thinking of it in terms of my chronic illness. But it should be thought about in terms of my illness. It applies to it just as much as it does to anything else. 

When You’re At the End of a Long Day

I wish one of my friends could understand what I go through. I wish that my illness wasn’t so invisible. I wish I could go to church every Sunday and feel fine afterwards. 

I may never, however, have a friend who understands. My sufferings may never be seen, in full, to the outside world. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go to church and feel fine afterwards. 

Even so, I can’t dwell on that. I can’t let what could be or won’t be fester in my mind. I need to think about what I know is true, and ultimately, what I know is most important: God understands. God sees my sufferings in full, and I need to find comfort in that. After all, isn’t that what really matters? Would I rather have the whole world understand me while there is a wall between me and God? Isn’t it better to have Christ to cling to, even if everything else is taken away? Isn’t He the most valuable thing any of us could have? Isn’t this whole post pointless if what I just said isn’t true? 

You’re sick like I am. Which means it’s probably hard, even as you are reading this, and for me, even as I am writing this, to fully lay claim to the comfort we have in Christ. But it’s there. It’s ours for the taking. I pray that God will give all of us the strength to let go and latch on to Christ. Our health may fail, our friends may not understand, but our God understands and He will never forsake us.  

Still fighting,

Ella

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