Coping with chronic illness from a Christian perspective

chronic illness, faith, chronic illness christianity

Having a chronic illness means you will have it forever. It may be inactive every once in a while, but there is always that uncertainty and anxiety knowing a flare will come back, attacking you once again.

I may have been diagnosed with lupus since 2007, but I have not experienced any bad flare ups (aside from Raynaud’s phenomenon when it’s cold) until 2010. Since then, my battle has been on and off, never-ending. Even though I KNOW I will have lupus forever and will have to take medications until the day that I die, I still pray to God for remission and for my lupus to be inactive like it was in 2016.

My battle lately has not been easy. I had to go back on prednisone in November, and the weight gain has been challenging and demoralizing. God knows my weight has something I’ve been insecure about my whole life, why do I have to go through this extra challenge regarding my body image? Why do I have to have extra protein in my kidney? In addition, I just had a UTI last month and I had to take antibiotics (cephalexin) for a week, which caused dizziness as a side effect. Since then, I’ve been battling vertigo, which has been so frustrating because it makes it very difficult to focus at work, and it slows down my performance. Having vertigo is also a scary feeling, like something is going to happen to you and your world is spinning. I went to the doctor for my vertigo and was prescribed meclizine, and it helps, though it takes a while to kick in.

I also just had a fever earlier last week and suffered through a panic attack at the coffee shop near my work during my lunch break, thinking I was going to have a seizure. I was getting shaky, and my extremities were starting to feel numb. I called Cecilio begging him to come pick me up right away (he wanted me to stay on the phone the whole time he was driving), then I notified my bosses that I wasn’t feeling well and had to leave early. Thank goodness they have been so understanding through it all. I also went to the  got a brain MRI on Friday to find out why I have been having vertigo.

The physical challenges of having a chronic illness are tough, I’ll tell you that straight up. But I think the more difficult aspects are the emotional, mental and spiritual challenges. Sometimes feels like identity is wrapped around your disease. It definitely felt that way when I was having the worst flare ups from 2010–2014. It was easy to forget sometimes when my lupus was inactive and when I had amazing lab results in 2016. Now I am going through another flare again…

As a Christian suffering with chronic illness, you pray and pray everyday for God to heal and deliver you from sickness and pain in your life. You hold on to those verses about healing, and you find solace in the stories where Jesus healed a leper, a sick woman, and many other people during his time (which are all in Matthew 9 in the Bible). You want to be free from the chains of disease, medications, doctor’s visits, depression and anxiety. You want those things not only for yourself but to give a testimony to others about how Jesus is real, and how His [physical] healing proves so.

One of the hardest things I have to accept is that God may or may not heal me physically. Yes, there are stories of Jesus healing in His time, and people getting healed even today. But there is also St. Paul the Apostle, who battled with a “thorn in the flesh”:

2 Corinthians 12:7-9, chronic illness, faith, chronic illness christianity

The Bible never states what kind of “thorn” that Paul was battling, though some say that it might be epilepsy, malaria or an eye problem. Some theologians argue that the “thorn” might not even be a sickness, but more of a threat to his ministry.

I was also listening to a Christian station yesterday while driving, and the song “More Than Anything” by Natalie Grant popped up, in which the first verse and chorus resonated with me:

I know if you wanted to you could wave your hand
Spare me this heartache and change your plan
And I know any second you could take my pain away
But even if you don’t I pray

Help me want the Healer more than the healing
Help me want the Savior more than the saving
Help me want the Giver more than the giving
Help me want you Jesus more than anything

While it is such a beautiful song, and that and Pauls’ passage remind you to focus on Jesus, I’m only human. I want Jesus, but I want physical healing too. I want to have my slim body back. I want to see negative anti-DNA in my labs. I want to be able to have a baby someday. I want to be free from anxiety and fear of the future. I don’t want to have to always pay an exorbitant amount of money for medications and co-pay for doctor’s visits. And when I hear Pauls’ passage, it makes me feel like God has forgotten my prayers to get better. That is an absolute lie from the devil because he will do anything to make sure you don’t get close to God by making you feel like He doesn’t love you.

But here is how I am coping with chronic illness on a spiritual level as a Christian, and I hope it can be of encouragement to you too:

Talk to someone
Maybe Facebook isn’t the best way to express your negative emotions, and I try my best to minimize it as much as possible because I don’t want to appear weak to others. Of course I always talk to Cecilio, but I wanted to be heard from others too. But I did post out of frustration one time in November,“Why do Christians think it’s so easy to be joyful and happy all the time, we need more people to admit that we struggle spiritually…” and I got an outpouring of love and support from family and friends. My mom has been a bastion of strength for me, constantly giving me love and support throughout this trying time. Though we butted heads A LOT when I used to live at home, in the long run I appreciate the wisdom and advice she gives me. And she was the one who taught me about Jesus and His love when I was young. She has always encouraged me to keep praying, to keep believing, to keep soaking myself in devotionals and Bible verses. Since I’ve been doing so, I have more peace in my heart. I truly believe that God does answer your prayers or speaks to you through others, which is why you must never isolate yourself.

Don’t Stop Believing
And I’m not referring to the Journey song either. Even though I know that there is a chance that God might not heal me, it doesn’t stop me from trying or praying. Sure, there is a tempting part of me that wants to give up, but that is exactly what the devil wants. God wants you to petition your desires to Him, and there are three answers he gives: yes, no, or not yet. Even then, the “yes” answers may come in a different form than you expect: He uses science and modern medicine to help aid in that healing through doctors and medications.

Look for positive role models who rose above their struggles
You may or may not have heard of him, but Nick Vujicic is one of my role models. He was born without arms and legs, and throughout his childhood he suffered from bullying, not being able to do the most basic tasks, and the constant worry about never finding true love or starting a family. He even attempted suicide at the age of 10 by drowning in a tub. Today, he is touring all over the world, preaching Jesus’ love and changing thousands of lives. He has a wife and four beautiful children. Even without limbs he developed many different passions such as traveling, surfing and playing drums. He inspires me to not feel sorry for myself as much. I also like reading blog posts from Rest Ministries, a ministry for people with chronic illness.

Be thankful for the gifts you do have
I know the lyrics above mention to desire the Giver more than the giving (or the gifts). But God also delights in giving us gifts, even if they may not be every little thing we want. I absolutely cannot say that He hasn’t blessed me: I have a loving family, great group of friends, wonderful, selfless husband. We had a beautiful wedding and a fun, blissful honeymoon in Mexico. We are about to celebrate our 1-year anniversary in 2 weeks and go to San Diego. We have 2 dogs that bring joy to our lives. I have a job that I love in an organization that helps others, and my salary is more than I ever would’ve negotiated for. My coworkers are a dream to work with, and I am contributing my skills immensely. We have a cute little apartment and we don’t ever have to worry about going hungry or not having a warm bed.

Look to the Cross
After all, isn’t the Cross central to Christianity? The cross where Jesus died to save sins? Even as He was being tortured and abused before being nailed, He too suffered from the physical and emotional pain. He wanted to have the pain taken away. If anyone knew anything about suffering, it would be Him. And He is the Savior. Even during His time on the cross, he wrestled with wondering why God the Father has forsaken Him. So if you ever feel like God has abandoned you, remember that even Jesus (who is 100% God [the Son, from the Holy Trinity] and 100% human) felt lonely, abandoned and depressed too. But He did it for love. And remember that being a Christian is not a ticket to an easy life, but a life where you are not alone and you have the greatest Source of strength to carry you through.

I hope this post encourages you. I was a little bit hesitant about posting this because I know that not everyone who reads my blog is a Christian. I respect that too. I just wanted to share how God has been carrying me through this. I also talked about wanting to share my faith more in this blog in January. And I will be honest and say straight up that lately there have been a lot of times where I felt crappy and that He has abandoned me, but writing this all out has lifted a weight off my shoulders. I feel more peace and joy, and I hope and pray that I will continue to cling to Him for peace despite my circumstances.

Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.

Share more love: