Being a perfectly healthy 27-year-old and taking a crash into chronic illness was devastating for me. I lost most of the physical and mental abilities that I took for granted.
My weekend bike trips and quick-and-easy smarts became impossible.
I can’t begin to count the times I’ve cried out to God in the years since and asked him to heal me.
And yet I remain sick. Bike trips and brains appear to be a part of my history instead of my future.
Has God abandoned me? Surely I’m asking enough and in the right ways to receive his healing? What am I/did I do wrong to deserve this?
And the answer is, NO I haven’t been abandoned. God is listening and loving me, even when I’m at my lowest.
Chronic illness is the hardest thing many people face.
There is no end date in sight for most of us. Some people, like me for the first 5 years, don’t even have a diagnosis for why their bodies are malfunctioning.
It’s easier to get through something when you have a belief that it will end. If you’ve ever had the flu, the thing that kept you going is that you know you will become healthy or “normal” again. That hope allows you to see beyond your present misery.
With a chronic disease, you don’t have that comfort and assurance…at least, not on this side of eternity. Instead, you’re faced with the prospect that your suffering may last for years. Possibly the rest of your life.
And it’s not only the physical or emotional aspects of these illnesses that are hard.
Chronic illness tests your spiritual side. You may wonder if God has abandoned you. You might think you’re being punished or worry you brought this on yourself. You may begin to doubt your faith or try to bargain with God.
All of these reactions are normal. What we’re experiencing is grief. It’s the feeling of pain we encounter when we lose something.
It’s not only the lost health that causes grief. It’s the loss of experiences you could have/should have had. It’s the time you won’t get to spend with friends and family because of your illness.
I don’t know about you, but here’s something I find comforting.
Grief is not unique to humanity. God knows it, too. Jesus also experienced it.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3)
One translation of this verse says He was “acquainted with the deepest grief”. Since Jesus knew grief, He understands exactly what it is to experience loss. In his final moments of pain and suffering, His cry was: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
It doesn’t make you weak or a failure to wonder where God is. It only means that you are human and your understanding is limited to the things of this world.
While it’s normal to feel alone, it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. As a matter of fact, Psalms 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
He is actually closer to us when we’re brokenhearted and crushed!
I’m not going to beat around the bush, there is an example in the Bible of Jesus indicating sin can cause illness.
In John 5, Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda. This man has been ill for 38 years but has continued to hope for healing.
Jesus grants the deepest longing of his heart. When He spots the man again a few verses later, he extends a warning to him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (verse 18).
God let bad things happen to good people, too. Just take a read through Job and you can see tremendous suffering brought to the blown-down door of a faithful man.
Illness can be the same. Look at Jesus’ answer when His disciples wanted to know about a blind man’s sin…
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)
God can and does use illness to showcase His glory and grace. It could be that God intends to cure you at some point in a miraculous way. But it could also be that God intends to show the world His strength through your weakness as Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, concluding: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
While sin can be the cause of illness, it is more likely the result of living in a world ravaged by sin and darkness.
Also, let’s not forget we can become ill as a result of someone else’s sin. Perhaps, for example, a person with AIDS is given to them by their unfaithful spouse.
Even when an illness is caused by sin (whether your own or someone else’s), it doesn’t mean that God has forsaken us.
David had this to say after his sin with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
When David sinned, God wasn’t looking to crush him. He was looking to restore David. But that could only happen after David confessed his sin and sought to walk in true repentance.
Regardless of the cause of the disease or illness, you are fighting, God is always compassionate. He is not looking to punish but to restore. He longs to bring you into his presence and fellowship with you!
One of the challenges of being chronically ill is staying spiritually and emotionally strong when you feel terrible each day.
It was described by one sufferer like this: “It’s like I start my day with an empty gas tank. I don’t wake up feeling refreshed or energized. I feel like I have the flu every morning.”
Some Christians believe they should “push past it” or “smile through it all” or “tough it out” when they’re dealing with a chronic illness. I’m sure we’ve all encountered proponents of the ‘pick yourself up by your bootstraps’ method to getting over an illness.
Maybe you’ve even had a loved one to tell you this. I’m sorry if you have!
Because we Christians don’t have to paint a smiley face over those feelings! We have been blessed with the ability to go into God’s presence and share these deep emotions.
In Psalm 62:8, David tells God’s people to be honest about what they’re feeling: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
The emotions you’re going through may not always be pretty. It’s OK to say, “God, today I’m missing out on another milestone in my child’s life because of my illness and it’s breaking my heart.”
Or even, “God, I’m angry today. I’m sick and none of this feels fair and I don’t understand why You haven’t healed me.”
Our emotions are not sinful. God gave us emotions so we could enjoy our lives and experience love, affection, and intimacy. But the flip side of living in a sinful world is that we also experience emotions that are painful—sadness, guilt, fear, or shame.
Besides talking to God, some people with chronic illness find it helpful to deal with their emotions through artistic activities. Often the act of creating will give you space to express your feelings so you finish feeling uplifted.
You don’t have to be an “artist” to take up a creative hobby. Because when we create, we honor our Creator. Your “art” may take many forms – it could be knitting, drawing, painting, embroidery, rubber stamping, coloring, writing fiction, crocheting, scrapbooking, pottery, gardening, taking photographs, or hand lettering.
These are just a few examples. If you don’t have one, consider a hobby that appeals to you and your strengths. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It makes take a few tries for you to find one that suits your emotions, needs, and soul.
When you’re dealing with a chronic illness, it can also be helpful to look for a way to minister to others. You don’t have to do anything huge. When George suffered a stroke, he lost the ability to speak but he could still knit.
After hearing a local hospital needed blankets in the neonatal unit, George began knitting as a way to give back. It comforted him to know that even though his ability to communicate was gone, he could still show others the love of Jesus.
You don’t have to take up knitting to be a blessing. You can do something simple like: write a note to a hurting friend, call an elderly neighbor, take a meal to someone in need, give a book that spoke to you during a dark time to someone from church, or leave flowers on a stranger’s car along with a Bible verse.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to cope with chronic illness when I can do something constructive and bring happiness to someone else. As we lift up those around us, we will begin to feel encouraged, too.
Recently, I read the story of Kyle, who was injured in a shooting.
He had been a police officer who was shot in the line of duty and suffered a traumatic brain injury that made everyday tasks difficult. He wasn’t able to keep working and his wife became the main earner for the family. She worked long hours at a difficult job that didn’t pay enough.
As time went on, Kyle became resentful. He wasn’t just angry over what had happened. He was frustrated at how his wife was mistreated at work, at how she had to struggle to keep their bills paid, and at how his children suffered because of the stress and chaos at home.
I speak from painful experience when I say one of the hardest parts of living with a chronic illness is watching how it affects those you love most.
For some, that may mean your children don’t get as much of your time or your spouse is overworked and exhausted all of the time.
These are understandable frustrations! But the problem arises when they are left unchecked and become bitter.
When Kyle reached out to a friend, he suggested that Kyle’s bitterness was rooted in a lack of forgiveness. He realized he needed to forgive his shooter all over again.
Paul encouraged the church in Ephesus to do the same: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians: 4:31-31)
We can get up in thinking of forgiveness as an activity that we do once. But many times, forgiveness is a choice we must make again and again. Although it wasn’t easy, Kyle made it a habit to say “I forgive you” every time he or his family suffered as a result of that shooter.
Maybe your ‘shooter’ isn’t an actual person but a circumstance. You may have to extend forgiveness to something that doesn’t deserve it or can’t physically hear you say it. But that is 1000% better than living a life of bitterness!
Illness can come into our lives with seemingly no cause. In these situations, it’s tempting to blame God. As humans, we want to understand the “why” behind our suffering and without a clear answer, we turn on the One who created us.
But let’s go back to Job. When he heard that he lost everything, his response was to worship (Job 1:20-22). Worship is the one activity that can drive away bitterness, soften a hard heart, and remind you of the Holiness, Grace, and Mercy of God.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t express your feelings in worship. God longs for us to worship in Spirit and in truth. That means being honest about our feelings but also meditating on the truth.
Some Biblical truths that can be helpful include:
- God is working this for your good (Romans 8:28).
- God has a plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11).
- God’s ways are perfect (Isaiah 55:9).
- Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
- You will receive an eternal reward for your present suffering (James 1:12).
Living with a chronic illness is hard. But when you lack a loving support system, it’s even harder. Maybe your parents don’t believe you’re really sick or your spouse doubts that you could be “in that much pain”.
In these moments, it’s tempting to lash out. You’ve been hurt and you want to respond with the same carelessness or malice.
But consider this: you’re standing at a beautiful crossroads. It’s the one between “they deserve this” and “this person is precious to my Heavenly Father”.
The natural, human response is to choose the first path. But the response that honors God? The one that makes Him cheer? It’s to see you extend the very same grace that you are being denied.
When those around you are cruel, when they’re thoughtless, when they fail to comfort you in your pain, or even openly mock your suffering, this is grace: to look at them through God’s eyes of love.
You cannot do this on your own. To see another human being through God’s eyes requires supernatural vision. It starts with humble prayer and a genuine desire for more of Christ in you.
Let this prayer be your plea: Dear God, I’m hurt. My spirit is heavy. I long for human comfort and I receive none. Be my Comforter! Be the Source of my joy! Give me the grace to see this person through Your eyes. Remind me again that they are beautiful and precious and cherished by You! Give me the compassion to love them the way You love them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
You can’t make someone believe that you’re sick or bully them into being nice to you. But you can show up and grant them grace. You can be supportive, kind, and loving…because that’s who Jesus is to you!
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
Chronic illness is trying on your body, mind, and soul.
There is no denying that.
And our prayers for healing may not be answered quickly or at all.
But that does not mean that God is not with us and loving us. Our faith in Him as our loving heavenly Father will be tested and strengthened through our pain and suffering.
I hope you found hope and encouragement in this post. That you can better understand why God may choose to not heal you. And what to do while you continue to pray.
I would love to join you in your prayers. Leave a comment below and I will add it to my prayer list.
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