I have been sick on and off for the past two years, and my symptoms have been getting worse for the last four months or so. I have everything from nausea and stomach pain to dizziness, night sweats, mood swings, and infertility. I have learned over the last two years that illness is tough…much harder to deal with than I expected. It makes functioning daily hard, and it has tested my faith in Jesus and highlighted areas of weakness that I didn’t know existed when I was healthy. But my illness has also made me dependent on Jesus again and has taught me that things that appear negative are not always as they seem.
The following is a list of spiritual lessons Jesus has taught me over the last few months. If you’re reading this and suffering from an illness, I hope it will give you encouragement and strength as you try to function as a teacher.
(Note: I plan on writing a Part II that will focus on practical day-to-day suggestions for teaching with an illness, but I wanted to begin with what I think is the most important part of dealing with illness: the spiritual.)
1. Turn To God First
This is probably the most important lesson Jesus has taught me this year. My tendency is to run to doctors, friends, and Google to get answers and comfort regarding my symptoms. But Jesus is teaching me that He must be the foundation for my comfort and decision-making. For example, my symptoms started to get worse about six months ago, but they began with only emotional changes like mood swings and anxiety. I assumed that the problem was purely spiritual and began praying and reading the bible more, but they kept getting worse. During this time, I started to think that God might be telling me to stop working on my store (my full-time job), but almost everyone I talked to said that that advice didn’t sound like God. Eventually, I took a leap of faith and stopped working, and a few months later, a long list of new physical symptoms began. I think that God knew that I had an underlying physical condition that was about to get worse, and He wanted my body to rest (that’s my guess anyway).
I realize that my TPT store provides me with passive income and that not everyone has the luxury of being able to stop working when they are ill. But the point is that God alone knows your unique situation. He knows exactly what is happening inside your body. Your friends, family, and even your doctor don’t know nearly as much as God does (although they should all be consulted at the appropriate time and in the appropriate order). God is teaching me that all humanly advice and tests should be weighed against what He has told me through the Bible and prayer.
2. Pain and Discomfort Have Benefits
For a long time, I was focused on how much I hated the discomfort of my symptoms and the question of what I might be doing wrong to cause it (this was especially true for my anxiety). One morning during a prayer, I asked God why this was happening to me. After several minutes of sitting in silence, I remembered that there was a story in the bible…something about Paul and a thorn (I have only been saved for four years and I didn’t know much about that story other than those two words). I turned to it and began reading:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-9)”
I was shocked. Paul was glad and content about his thorn in the flesh? As I was reading this passage, an unexplainable peace swept over my whole body and I realized that God wanted me to like my symptoms because my weaknesses force me to access and rely on God’s power (at least that’s my best way of explaining it).
In his book, “The Word on Health: A biblical and medical overview of how to care for your body and mind” Michael Jacobson lists seven different causes of illness as described in the bible. Prior to God sending me to the passage about Paul, I thought that my symptoms were either a result of sin or of breaking natural laws (like eating unhealthily), but God showed me that the main reason He is allowing me to suffer is to strengthen my faith by allowing me to be weak. Now when I get dizzy or nauseous or anxious, I try my best to raise my hands in the air and thank Him for my weaknesses.
Here’s a link to the book mentioned above if you’re interested:
3. Worshiping God When Your Body Is Screaming
Notice that I said, “I try my best” to thank God when I am feeling sick. Another lesson I am learning is that it is REALLY tough to worship God when my body is screaming. It’s not that I am mad at God. It’s just that my body is so loud; it’s difficult to focus on anything else besides the pain.
A few weeks after I read the passage on Paul’s thorn in the flesh, some videos and comments by friends alerted me to the story of Job (which I also had not read—don’t judge me. The bible is big). Just in case God was trying to teach me something again, I went to the Book of Job and started reading. Two things surprised me about this story. 1. Job’s trials were not his fault. 2. Job REALLY struggled to be positive and worship God while he was physically and emotionally suffering:
“I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? (Job 10:1-3)”
As I was reading it, I honestly thought that God was going to reprimand Job for the things he said while he was suffering, and in a way He did by saying things like, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? (Job 38:4).” But at the end, God says to Job’s unhelpful friends:
“…you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42: 8)”
So even though Job was very unhappy during his suffering and even accused God of “contending” against him, God says that Job spoke of God correctly. I’m not very skilled at biblical knowledge, but my best conclusion is that God understands how hard it is to suffer and shows a certain amount of grace to those of us going through trials. I try to raise my hands and worship Him as often as possible when I am sick, but sometimes I just can’t seem to muster up the strength. At those times, I try to mimic Job and be honest with God. I tell Him how much I hate the discomfort and how much I miss being healthy. Oftentimes, God will honor my honesty by changing my feelings or giving me the strength to raise my hands in the air.
4. Choose Jesus Above Even Your Life
Jesus clearly wants us to care about our life and the lives of others on Earth. But He has also taught me that my desire to live cannot be greater than my love for Him:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits himself?’ (Matthew 16: 24-26)”
I struggle with worrying that my symptoms could be the result of something life-threatening. I don’t want to die. But I realized a few weeks ago that I care a lot more about living a long life on Earth than I do about Jesus. And I have noticed that as Jesus rises in importance in my heart, my fears of death slowly decrease.
What does all of this have to do with teaching? I feel so much empathy for those of you who have to pull yourselves up out of bed every day and head to an emotionally draining job all while carrying the wait of the world in your bodies and minds. But if you can start to turn to God for answers, see the beauty in your illness, and hand over your life to Jesus, maybe getting through each day will feel easier over time.
Go easy on yourself and don’t try to be a perfect teacher this year. Remember, you are sick and sickness is hard. But God will never leave you or forsake you (if you are saved), and he has things for you to learn during this season of your life.
P.S. Need some good music to help you worship? Here are a few of my favorite songs to listen to when I am sick.
For when I’m trying to stop worrying and let go….
For when I want to focus on Jesus…..
For when I’m feeling optimistic and want to dance….
THANK YOU for sharing!! I teach music and have purchased resources from you in the past. What a beautiful testament of your faith in Jesus! You will give others much hope through this latest post. God bless you and bring healing to your body and mind.
Emily Conroy says
Hi Holly! Thank you so much for the encouragement and for your business. God bless you too!
Melody Payne says
Wow, Emily, I had no idea! I also have struggled with chronic illness for the past decade, and can totally empathize with everything you said. If I didn’t have God in my life, I really don’t know where I’d be! Thank you for this awesome reminder, and for sharing so much about yourself. I feel like we have so much more in common, now that I know we’re sisters in Christ. I’ll be praying for your healing, and if you ever want to talk about ideas for dealing with chronic illness from someone else who’s right there with you, feel free to get in touch!
Emily Conroy says
Hi Melody! I didn’t know there were any music sellers who were Christians. How exciting! I would love to talk more. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m curious to know what illness you’ve been dealing with.
Thanks so much for praying for me. It’s extra nice of you to pray for my healing when you are struggling with illness yourself.
Thank you for so candidly sharing your current struggles! Everyone has a different cross to bear and we weren’t promised a perfect life if we follow Christ, but rather we’re promised that God will carry us through the difficult circumstances we face (as you said, He’ll never leave us). Despite sin, sickness, and disease being unleashed in this world, and though our bodies sometimes fail, He longs to take every situation we go through and use it for our good, for His glory, and to make us more like Christ. It’s okay to question and ask God what’s going on…just turn to any psalm from David and read his pleas for help and deliverance! God’s big enough to handle our questions and our asking why. However, as you’ve so wisely stated, we can’t stay in that state of ‘why me’ as that’ll turn to bitterness and hopelessness, which is the opposite of faith. At the end of each psalm of David, he does exactly what you are doing…after asking why, he praises God and acknowledges that God hears his cries and is powerful to work on his behalf. And the same is true for us!
I wish I could give you a big, huge hug 🙂 Keep the faith and know that your struggles aren’t in vain and not for nothing. Check out these passages if you have the chance: Romans 8:18-32; John 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Psalm 31. I’m praying for you!
Emily Conroy says
Hi Danielle. Thank you so much for your nice thoughtful comment. I completely agree about questioning but keeping a Godly perspective at the same time. I had no idea that God would want me (and others) to complain and cry about things like I have, but I really think He likes it when I come to him with my feelings. But then there did seem to come a time when He answered me and sort of said “enough.” Now I’m in a place where I think He’s expecting me to start having faith in the things he’s told me (like praising Him as David did in the middle of struggles).
Thank you for pointing me to those verses. I just read Romans 8:18-32. I especially love these parts: “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” “…The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” “…for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”…What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us.?” This is all so true. I don’t think I would have believed it four months ago, but I do now. Thank you so much for your input and support.
Thank you for sharing your heart! I have not dealt with chronic illness but many of the lessons you shared are the same ones I learned through some very painful situations I went through a few years ago. Your story is an encouragement to many and a testimony to His grace!
Emily Conroy says
Hi Elizabeth! I didn’t know you were a Christian! How awesome! You must have gone through something tough to have learned these kinds of lessons. I’m sorry for whatever pain you had to endure. It’s not fun :(. When this is all over, I will be relieved, but I don’t think I would take it back. This experience has taught me things about Jesus that are priceless to me. I could definitely have it worse too and thank God for TPT. Without it, I wouldn’t have the money to pay for all the tests I’ve done and doctors I’ve seen. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Feel free to email me anytime. (email@example.com)
Gloria Sandoval says
Hello Elizabeth, I hope you are having a good day today. What you describe sounds a lot like Fibromyalgia. I have suffered with that since I was in high school (looking back at symptoms I had then). I am nearly 60 now. I was able to handle my pain because I was used to it, but at 39 I got pregnant with my first child (he is our only child). I had so many extra symptoms after that. The pain became worse (I assume it was because I had my son at such a late age). I had been to doctors and the word hypochondria poured from several of their lips. One day I read an article about Fibromyalgia and I began to sob. I thanked our Lord that I was not crazy. Every symptom I had was right there. It was years before I got an answer and it was confirmed: Fibromyalgia. Nothing takes the pain away, and I stopped taking the meds that didn’t help anyway. I survived (and continue to survive) on God’s Grace alone. Last year I was diagnosed with brain cancer (I was admitted to the hospital the day before our Veteran’s Day program!). I was operated on by a neurosurgeon who lied to me and said he “got it all” (which was the truth only in his mind) and then God sent me to MD Anderson where my tumor was removed successfully. Everything that happened was a miracle from Heaven. I was out the whole school year – talk about suffering. I wanted to go back so badly. I have lost some of my rhythmic abilities and have to relearn it plus I am weak and dizzy always, but that doesn’t stop me. I do what I can and it is all for the Grace and the Glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who saved my life and “told me” to tell everyone that through Him there is HOPE! That is the most important message. He came into our world to give us hope. They were so hopeless, and unfortunately for them so few knew Him. It seems like our world is back at so much hopelessness, so He tries to tell us that He gave us hope for all things. And through that hope that Love blooms and flourishes. For through His Love for us, Hope came and set us free and gave rise to our faith.
Please forgive me if these sound like ramblings. These are truly the feelings He gave me during Christmas holidays in 2017 right after my life saving surgery. These convictions remain in me because that was His gift to me and now I give them to you (from Him). He impressed on my heart that I was to share this with everyone I could. I pray it gives you some comfort and peace, but most of all hope because we are so loved!
Emily Conroy says
Thank you so much for telling me your story, Gloria. It is awesome! Jesus really does come through during trials if we turn to Him. I’m so happy for what He did for you. What an amazing story. And good for you for doing what He told you to do and sharing it 🙂 Most of my symptoms are gone now which is amazing. About 3/4 of them went away after the elders at my church prayed for me one night last winter and most of the others went away when I started treating my thyroid. I still have some unexplained nausea, but that seems like small beans to me now! I’m grateful to be getting a break from physical things. Thanks so much for your support. Please keep in touch!
You folks can talk all about how chronic illness can teach you or help you understand or bring you closer to God .. if it does for you cool ….
I submit this . You get beaten enough or raped , mistreated . After a time it’s just human nature to no like that guy that inflicts pain upon you ( acts of god . Illness created and distributed by God . ) It’s just common sense . Why would you want to go around your dad if he hit you in the mouth every time you see him. If … IF God is using chronic illness to try to teach or get love or for you to get closer to HIm …. I would suggest He goes back and rewrites or rereads lessons on basic human behavior . When you get Tortured . Most ofter you don’t like the guy doing it and you damn sure don’t want him spending the night with you in your house .
Emily Conroy says
Hi Duncan. Thanks for your honesty. I agree with you that it is human nature to to hate illness along with people who do awful things to you. In my opinion, one of the reasons all the bad in the world evokes this kind of response is because this was not the original design of things. I don’t think our bodies were originally intended to decay and die, and I think all people sense this. From the Christian perspective, all the sickness, death, pain, and sin you mentioned will be gone when we are living on the new Earth (book of Revelation). But until then, God brings so much good out of bad situations for his children (Christians), that the bad things start to pale in comparison. At least that has been my experience throughout my illness. I still hate the feeling of being sick and I cry about it sometimes. But no amount of pain or discomfort can erase the time Jesus warned me not to take a medicine that I turned out to be horribly allergic to, or the time Jesus healed me of several symptoms after the elders at my church prayed over me, or the time He flooded my body with peace when I was crying while reading the bible.