What I've Learned from a Chronic Illness


Twelve years ago, I woke up one morning to a knee swollen to twice its normal size. Having worked in the yard the day before, I just assumed I had tweaked my knee -- until my hands and shoulders started hurting. It hurt to walk. It hurt to move. Some days, it seemed like it hurt to breathe. I was taking 24 ibuprofen a day, and it still hurt.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease where your immune system attacks the linings of your joints. I don't write about my struggles with this chronic disease in this space because it's never seemed relevant to being a mom. Most of the time, it's simply an inconvenience. Most of the time, the medication I take does a great job of controlling it to the point where I don't think about it too much.

But lately, God has been prompting me to share a bit about my struggles. You see, rheumatoid arthritis isn't a disease you can see. You can't look at me and know that I have it. But it is something that affects the way I live. It is something that affects the way I parent. There are days my girls ask me to do something, and I have to tell them that I can't. There have been days when simply getting down to the floor is too much for my poor knees.

I tell you all of this because we all have these challenges in our lives. You may not have rheumatoid arthritis, but you may have a crumbling marriage. You may have a child with a learning disability. You may have a parent with Alzheimer's. You may have a prodigal teenager. And it affects your life in ways that others don't understand and can't see. It affects the way you parent and the way you interact with others. You know it, and others may know it, too, but they might not know why.

It's so easy to get blinded by the immediate pain that we miss what God is doing in the midst of that pain. Believe me, I know. So, today, I wanted to share with you the lessons I've learned from having a chronic illness in the hopes that those things will help you if you're hurting today.

What Having a Chronic Illness Has Taught Me

Pain can change everything. It can turn an even-tempered person into a grouch. It takes inordinate amounts of energy to deal with pain -- physical or emotional -- and too often that leaves me with little patience for anyone else, especially my family.

God isn't punishing me. Could He make it go away? Absolutely. Why does He choose not to? I don't know. But I do know that He is here with me, helping me through the pain and frustration.

It's OK to say no. To have enough energy for my husband and kids, I have to so say no to things that aren't  a part of God's plan for me. I have to jealously guard my schedule. If there are too many days with no down time, I won't have energy for the things I know I need to do.

It's OK to ask for help. When you're in the midst of an illness or an emotional trauma, it's hard to ask for help. But God didn't put us here to go through tough things alone. He gave us friends for a reason, friends to lift us up, make us smile, bring us meals and watch our kids when it all gets to be too much. Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Sure it's humbling, but it will strengthen your friendships and will help get you through.

Sometimes my best is not enough. There are days when no matter how hard I try, things just go undone. The floor doesn't get mopped. The laundry sits unfolded. My kids don't get my best. It stinks, but the reality is that I only have so much energy, and some days that energy runs out before the chores do.

Give someone else the benefit of the doubt. I've learned that you never know what kind of pain someone is dealing with behind the smile on their face. When someone is crabby or drops the ball, give them a break. You may find out later that what they were dealing with that day was so much more than just the project they were supposed to handle for you.

Parenting through pain is hard. Kids don't understand why mom can't pick them up or play basketball with them. Our kids need us to be there even when we're dealing with pain.

God never wastes a hurt. Whatever it is you're going through, God will use it to help others. I've gotten the opportunity to help countless others that I would never have had anything to offer because of my pain. Whatever your pain is, God is going to use it somewhere down the road.

A chronic illnesss, a struggling child, a broken marriage or a mom just worn too thin are all situations that leave us in pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Be on the look out for that hurting person. Offer them help and understanding. Give them the benefit of the doubt because no matter how wide the smile on their face, the pain behind that smile is making their lives difficult.

If you're struggling through pain today, know that God is there. He will use this for good, even though you can't see it right now. And you will come out the other side able to help someone else when they struggle.