“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you.” – John Piper
Indefinite. Incurable. Devastating. Debilitating. Exhausting. Unknown.
These words may describe your condition, but they don’t have to describe your identity.
Chronic Illness, Dysautonomia, POTS, strip away what we had so hoped our lives would be. They strip away what we can do and what we love to do. They strip away our very identity so that we are left with what feels like nothing. It is good and necessary to grieve the losses. It is good and necessary to feel that pain.
I can’t run 13.1 miles like I used to. I can’t feel the joy of decreasing my mile time down to see an 8 in the minute slot instead of a 9. I can’t give the energy I used to give at social gatherings. I can’t get out of bed without feeling pain and exhaustion. I can’t climb stairs easily. I can’t forget to take my medication and supplements. I can’t go anywhere without a water bottle. I can’t enjoy hiking or being active outside as much as I used to. I can’t stand up without feeling my heartbeat in my head or feeling dizzy.
There are a lot of things I can’t do anymore. I mourn the loss of these things. I feel the pain of the indefinite nature of my condition.
But we don’t have to stay there.
The beauty about this reality is that we have the freedom to feel the pain and grieve the loss whenever we feel it. There isn’t a set amount of time that we should be “over it” and move on. Even if I’m 80 years old and still have POTS, it will be ok to grieve the loss of the life I had hoped to have.
The danger is staying there.
When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to mourn the past of who we used to be, mourn the present of who we are, and mourn the future of who we can’t be. And while we can face these emotions head on, we don’t sit in the despair of our mourning. We trust God and embrace what he has for us right now.
And guess what? Your chronic illness isn’t your new identity.
So many people lose who they were and then attach themselves to their new illness. They identify with their illness and their symptoms so deeply that it becomes who they are. The problem is, if that illness ever goes away, they are left with nothing—they won’t know who they are without being sick.
Your illness is something you have, it’s not something you are. Your illness changes your experiences and your life, it doesn’t change your identity.
So, how do we embrace our real identity and the life God has given us?
I ask a question back: how is God using your illness in your life to bring himself glory? What is God teaching you through this illness?
Paul deals with some kind of hardship that isn’t explicitly shared in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, but he alludes to a hardship that he pleads with the Lord to take away. But Christ reminds Paul that his grace is sufficient. In the midst of living in chronic illness, we must fall back on the truth that we are not sufficient, but Christ’s grace is. It is incredibly easy to see our weaknesses in illness, but it isn’t always easy to live in the confines of them. The incredible thing about suffering with Christ is that his power is “perfected in weakness.”
Because, when we can’t do it on our own, when we don’t have the strength to stand (literally), then Christ’s power becomes almost unbelievable. It’s the power that brought sight to the blind. It’s the power that cleansed lepers. It’s the power that raised the dead to life. All of these people were weak (or dead) and had zero power in and of themselves to do anything. When Christ came along, he displayed his immense and perfect power in those people.
You know the old “Eh, I loosened it for you” saying we like to throw around when we desperately try to open something and then someone comes along and just “fops” it open right away?
Jesus’s power is nothing like that, but we like to pretend it is. We like to say that Jesus will fill in our gaps. He will finish the work we started. We loosen it for him and he just “fops” it open all the way.
We are weak. Jesus is strength.
Paul’s response to Jesus?
“Therefore, I will gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)
You know what’s cool about this passage? Jesus says “my power is perfected in weakness” and later Paul says “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Christ’s strength becomes his strength because Paul’s identity is in Jesus.
It’s not in his hardship. It’s not in how he’s dealing with it. It’s not in the life he wishes he had. It’s not in his sadness. It’s not in his good days.
It’s in Jesus.
When your identity is in Jesus it means that grace is your authority. It’s so easy to feel like a failure when you’re dealing with an illness. You’re constantly falling short of your own desires and expectations. But with an identity in Jesus, grace is your ultimate authority. Love is your motivation. Strength is your reality. Joy is your foundation. And hope cannot die.
So, this week, when you want to mourn the loss of the life you wished you had, when you are frustrated with your limitations and the way you feel every day: feel the pain and mourn the loss. Let yourself cry. Let people comfort you. But then, trust God with the life he has given you.
A reminder that this week points to Easter—Jesus’s beautiful marriage of strength and weakness. On the cross he would experience the greatest suffering and hardship in our place: weakness. And three days later would defeat death by raising to life: strength.
There is a strength greater than finishing a half marathon, making it through a party or getting out of bed in the morning. This strength defeated death. This strength is perfect. And this strength lives in our weaknesses.