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How Faith Helps Me Cope With the 'What-Ifs' of Chronic Illness

I have never felt well. Even in my earliest memories, I hurt. My mother tells me nothing satisfied or calmed me as a baby. I was her first child, but she knew something wasn’t right. I hardly slept. I cried all the time. Doctors and other mothers wrote her off, telling her it was nothing. I believe I was probably in pain. No wonder nothing soothed me.

Like many with chronic illnesses, I don’t have a time of wellness to look back on. Before age 12, I was more functional. Long story short, it’s been a battle ever since. I’m in college right now. I am unable to work at the same time. I struggle with a lot of shame because of this. Even more so, I’ve found myself living under this cloud of doubt:

What if after college, I still can’t work?

What if the most flexible job is still too much?

What if I can’t even work from home?

What if nothing I can handle makes enough money to live on?

What if …? 

It’s crushing. I try to avoid thinking about it, but it sneaks up on me at my lowest points. When I am down in the dumps, pain at an all-time high, the what-ifs come back. I am so frustrated not only with myself, but life in general.

What can I do? Except keep rowing in the same direction, into the fog, in spite of the pain with all the cards stacked against me? To follow the inner voice that says, “You must continue. There is a purpose, a plan and a finish line at the end of it all.”

I haven’t prayed about my worries like I should. I’ve let the fear freeze me. God stopped me in my tracks the other day. I was thinking about having no money. How I long for independence, but literally can’t have it. I have to rely on others and don’t like it. A passage ran through my mind. It was familiar:

Matthew 6:28-29: And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

The Holy Spirit subtly, yet clear as day, impressed a realization on my heart. I kept thinking of the words: “They do not labor or spin.”

I began to tear up. All my many fears came to the forefront of my mind. The unknowns. For whatever reason, all the times I’d read that passage, I never realized Jesus was saying they do not work, yet God provides their every need. The truth settled deep in my heart. I have to trust God will make a way, whether I’m able to work or not.

I may feel like I’m tossed by the waves, that my life is left up to random chance. Chronic illness is so unpredictable; it seems like I’m rolling the dice hour by hour, day by day: how functional will I be today? What new symptom may pop up? How long will this wave of pain last?

There is so much I don’t know. The uncertainty weighs me down like a ton of bricks, but when I press into Jesus and give Him my burdens, I can face the day. If He provides for the birds of the field and the flowers, I believe He will provide for you and I and all who love Him.

I believe we are not subject to random chance or the luck of the draw.

As hard as it is to accept, I believe everything passes through God’s hand. He allows evil, yet hates it. He sees our suffering and grieves alongside us. One day, God will make the world right again, but until that day, we live in a fallen world. I believe we — humanity — chose sin. We’ve been living in the consequences of that brokenness ever since. But don’t mistake what God allows with who He is.

All there is to do now is trust and have faith. Easy to say, difficult to do.

I don’t know where I’m going, but as long as God leads the way, that’s fine by me.

Unsplash image by Ben White