Thursday, 29 September 2016

Where is Jesus in my Suffering & what is he teaching me?

By Eleanor Hill

Have you tried praying about it El?’

‘Maybe you’re just not praying or believing hard enough’ I hear for the millionth time this summer...

‘You just need to offer it up to God, as a sacrifice.’

Summer 2016, for me, had been the best and worst summer to date.

It’s been full of such joy and laughter, I’ve spent so much quality time with close friends and family, I’ve pretty much toured the whole of the UK, I’ve chilled out, served at different events and I even got to see the Pope! But amongst all the joy and the laughter, there’s been immense pain and hopelessness that was brought on by illness. 

For years now, I’ve suffered with chronic stomach problems and although I try not to complain, it’s seriously painful and sucks a lot! Some days I’ll be fine, and the next it will take over. I’ve tried every medication, prayed every prayer with the word healing in and seen countless doctors, but nothing so far has stopped the pain. At the beginning of summer, I became even more ill, I started to suffer from low blood pressure. I couldn’t walk down the street without passing out or getting a nose bleed. It was embarrassing and I was physically drained.

The more ill I became, the more my faith started to shake. I started to doubt God’s goodness, doubt his nature. I was angry and couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to heal me, why he’d let me suffer in this way. I saw God as having favourites and I thought of my illness as a sort of punishment I guess. But what I needed to remember was that illness and pain are not God given. God doesn’t send us illness to test us or to punish us, but he uses it for his glory, in line with his perfect plan. God doesn’t want me to be unhealthy and unwell, His desire is that I am healthy and fit enough to be what He’s called me to be, to have his energy and passion, to fulfill 'impossible' acts of faith and to remember that his grace is in my illness.

In view of this we also pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call, and by his power fulfill all your desires for goodness, and complete all that you have been doing through faith; so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.' 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

God, through my illness, is inviting me into something greater, to be like the saints

to have impossible faith and to have his hope, as an anchor for my soul (Hebrews 6:19). Although at times I may feel like He isn’t there or isn’t listening to me, Jesus is seeking me constantly. Jesus is in my friend who gives me their glass of water, Jesus is in the person who gives me sugar when my blood pressure is low, Jesus is in the person who catches me as I faint, Jesus is in my mum and dad who take me to the doctors for the tenth time, Jesus is in all the text messages I receive asking if I'm ok, Jesus is in the friend who is hugging me as I cry in pain. Jesus is in the doctor, the receptionist, the list goes on! Jesus is in every person who is showing me such patience and compassion.

Jesus, through my illness, is humbling me

He’s teaching me humility, to rely on others, to remember to rely on His strength and not my own. He’s showing me that as much as I like to think of myself as invincible, I have my limits. Jesus is inviting me to quite literally let my feet be washed, to humble myself amongst my friends, to accept their help and generosity and, most importantly, to let myself be loved.

Jesus, in my illness, is inviting me to choose

He’s showing me that faith is a choice, joy is a choice, and peace is a choice. It’s a decision, a sacrifice and something that goes far beyond how we may feel or external reasons. Choosing faith and joy in the moments when you are furthest from them is an action rooted in hope, and in those moments where I choose to have faith and to choose to be joyful, victory is found; 

'A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones' Proverbs 17: 22

Jesus, through illness, is teaching me the importance of rest

something I deeply struggle with. Before I became ill, I was telling myself the lie that my worth and dignity was based on how much I could do. I thought the more my service increased, the more God’s love for me would increase. I thought of myself as being selfish if I spent a weekend resting or having time to myself. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rest is a gift, a necessity, something Jesus wants me to do and something he sought himself, often. Resting in his presence is just as much of a discipline as work is. Jesus is giving me this time to quite literally ‘lie down in green pastures, and be beside quiet waters’ Psalm 23:3. Jesus is asking me in times when I’m bed bound, to seek his presence as an opportunity to bask in his goodness, Just like David, I can have comfort in knowing that the ‘Lord will strengthen me on my bed of illness, he will sustain me on my sickbed.’ Psalm 41: 3.  God is healing me, maybe not in a physical sense, but healing me from the idea that my worth is based on my deeds. I can rely on the security and truth that Jesus loves me no more or no less for my acts, his love is the same yesterday and today and forever.

One thing I’ve deeply struggled with is offering up my illness as a sacrifice to God, especially when in pain, offering it up as a prayer or intention. As much as I’d like to say every time I get pain I seek God, I don’t. However, when I do feel strong enough to offer my pain as a sacrifice, something beautiful happens. Suddenly, I’m giving the pain to Jesus. My focus is on him and not the illness. I’m united in his suffering on the cross. My pain becomes a powerful prayer and I'm reminded that Jesus knows exactly how I feel. He’s been through what I'm experiencing and he understands, he himself knows my suffering.

'But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.' Luke 17:25

Keeping it real, Illness is rubbish. It’s tough, and it’s physically, mentally and spiritually draining.

Many times it can be embarrassing and I’m a firm believer that the individuals who experience tough illness and still have faith are the walking saints of today. So many times, I’ve felt abandoned, I’ve been angry and lost patience. But it’s ok to feel that way. And, it’s ok to go through times in your life were your faith is low, where you’re feeling overwhelmed and in complete chaos.

But what isn’t ok, is to live a life with more sadness than we want, because we have less Jesus than we need.

For anyone who’s going through illness, I know it’s hard, but our God is a good God, who loves you deeply, and no matter how you feel or how little you have to offer him, that truth will never change. In times when prayer seems so distant and everything is crashing down on you, pray a simple Hail Mary. Any prayer, big or small, is listened to, and what better prayer to pray than asking for the intercession of our mother? After all, mums know best eh?

Take one day at a time and ask God simply that you’ll see the good in all situations. I’ve struggled big time, and as much as I would like to say I haven’t been shaken by everything, I have. But God has shown me a different perspective; his perspective; that my faith isn’t based on feeling. That although physical healing is far away, I have received healing in so many other parts of my life. I can rely on my community around me, and most importantly, when I feel like he’s so distant, he’s in fact the one carrying me.

'We are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faith until our souls are saved.’ 

Hebrews 10:39

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