An Anchor in Illness

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Recent stories in the news have brought individuals to the forefront that have chosen to die on their own terms. My last post focused on Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminal cancer patient, who decided to take her life this past weekend rather than suffer with the pain of cancer.

In similar form, Robin Williams surprised everyone with his suicide a few months ago. In contrast to Maynard, Williams did not announce his decision to the public beforehand but instead went quietly into his room, armed with a belt, and never came out again. His widow cited that Williams’ depression over a Parkinson’s diagnosis had contributed to his suicide.

Although their methods were different, both Maynard and Williams had one thing in common: They wanted a say in their final moments. Death looked more appealing to them than a finale that involved uncertainty and a loss of control over their bodies.

The Stress of Illness

Illness is tough. I haven’t battled anything as monumental as a cancer or Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I have to admit that even my relatively small struggles to get my health back after my recent miscarriage and hospitalization added to my stress and depression. Even though I had been promised a full recovery after three months, I still felt pretty discouraged when I looked at the healthy, happy people around me, and I felt confined to the four walls of my house because a quick trip to the grocery store inspired my heart to race and my head to throb.

I couldn’t remember dates and names very well because my hemoglobin levels had dipped so low that my head was in a constant fog. Following my son around the playground for an hour made me tired enough to be in bed all afternoon. In addition, I felt a sting when family members didn’t exactly rush to my aid or even remember to check up on me. I felt very alone.

My husband reminded me that at least I had an end in sight, but what if I had been told that I didn’t have a chance of recovery? As I was pondering the effect of my own health situation, I felt the Lord speak to me about the hope He gives us to combat the challenges of illness.

Perhaps these truths will be of encouragement to you as well in whatever situation you find yourself in:

1. His hope is an anchor for the soul.

I love these words from Hebrews 6:18 that are now a line in a popular Hillsong worship song. His hope literally “anchors” us when we feel the worry and strain of what is happening in our body and feel that our emotions are getting carried away. A verse I felt really spoke to me after my miscarriage was Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” We can rest in health or illness because we can trust Him as the author and finisher of our life.

2. Another source of comfort for us is that we have access to the God of the universe.

The greatest physician of all, the Creator who formed our body. One of the benefits of being a Christian is that He heals all of our diseases (Psalm 103:3). He doesn’t guarantee a healing, and I don’t understand why some get healing and some do not; however, we have the hope that we can approach Him and ask for that healing.

3. Even if we do not receive healing in the way we want, we can trust in the fact that all suffering has to go through Him first.

If it His will that we do not get a complete healing, as believers, we can know that He will walk through the illness with us. He will provide comfort for us and strength along the way.

When I was on my way to the hospital because I was having symptoms that I suspected were that of a pregnancy loss, I felt the sun shining on me through the car window, and I felt the most wonderful sense of peace. I kept hearing the words in my head, “You can let this go. You can let this pregnancy go.” I just felt this sense of strength girding me up on all sides, even though I was in the midst of the crisis of losing my baby.

Once we made it to the hospital, I continued to feel a supernatural calm. When I was waiting to go into surgery after learning I was having a miscarriage, a wonderful woman from my church who just happened to be working in the operating room that night popped her head in and prayed for me before the surgery. I felt that God had sent her to my side to further ease me through the process.

And, again, when I was released and the horrible reality of what had happened had washed over me, I felt literally that the dark, bottomless hole in my soul I had fallen into was sewn up by a master surgeon.

This is not to say that I did not experience grief or pain — because I did and am still processing through that — but I had a wonderful help in the midst of my crisis.

4. Lastly, we have the hope that our trials and suffering are temporary.

I get so caught up in trying to have perfect circumstances, but that is not what the Bible tells me is the reality for this life. The Bible assures us that we can expect trials and suffering (John 16:33) but to “take heart” and not be thrown off by difficulty. Another “anchor” for us in our suffering is that we have hope that all of this present trouble will pass away. It encourages us to know that while our physical body is deteriorating, our spirit is ever being renewed — and we will experience the perfect circumstances we desire when this life is over. The longing we feel for this is normal; all of creation longs for it too (Romans 8:22).

Conclusion:

Illness is stressful and hard. It changes the dynamics of relationships and can be a heavy burden to bear. There is nothing easy about losing physical capabilities and having to rely on others to take care of us. However, God’s desire is not for us to succumb to worry or fear but instead rest in Him — the hope that “anchors” us in our trials.

*Updated November 18, 2017.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Does Good Come Out of Suffering?

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If you’ve followed the news as of late, you’ve most likely heard of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newly married woman that has made the choice to die. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maynard has opted not to put her family through the stress of watching her slowly deteriorate and has chosen death with dignity, a program that allows for terminally ill patients an end-of-life option. Surrounded by her family and friends, she will consume the contents of a prescription pill bottle and depart from this earth.

Maynard originally made the decision to take the prescription November 1, but according to a recent video released by CNN, she is now waiting for the “right time” to take the fatal dosage.

While I certainly sympathize with Maynard’s situation and have compassion for her in her difficulty, I am saddened by her decision and the voices in our culture that support the idea that we have the right to elect out of life when things get hard.

In first reading about Maynard’s unorthodox choice, I joined the discussion by posting an article on Facebook railing against death with dignity and Maynard’s views. Then I felt a quiet conviction that perhaps my path as a Christian should not so much be to condemn her actions, but rather, as Ellen Painter Dollar argues in her article “A Christian Response to Brittany Maynard’s Decision to Die,” offer an alternative approach to the complicated issue of suffering.

Maynard’s story certainly raises some questions: Why should we allow ourselves to experience suffering? What good can possibly come out of it? How should we as Christians approach it? And while it’s convincing to believe that we shouldn’t have to go through pain if we choose not to, the Bible offers a few other ideas on the subject.

We are Promised Trouble

Understandably, we are made in God’s image and have this idea of perfection for this life in our mind because God is perfect. When we get diagnosed with a devastating disease and our idea of happily ever after shatters, we feel we should have an immediate rescue from our tribulations, but God never promised us that we would have it easy. We are simply encouraged to “take heart” and know that He has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). God doesn’t tell us we won’t experience trouble, He tells us that as Christians we can expect it.

And while we may not understand all the reasons we have to go through the trials that we do, we have the assurance that our longing for perfection will be fulfilled in heaven.

Suffering Has Purpose

One thing that we can find comfort in is that the only perfect human being to live on this earth, Jesus Christ, suffered. His suffering had a purpose: to provide salvation for all of humanity. Even in His perfection, He still struggled with His own emotions before having to endure the cross. He didn’t want to go through what He did; if He had chosen to avoid the Father’s will, however, we would not have the opportunity for the life we enjoy in Christ. According to Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Clearly, Jesus’ pain was for something — a purpose bigger than himself.

Similarly, our trials are for something — our “light and momentary trials are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our suffering has a distinct purpose that God uses for His kingdom.

Pain Enlarges Us

If we go through life and never experience hardship and struggle, we would all act pretty superficial. Suffering is what produces in us some of our most enduring qualities and gives us the ability to “comfort others” as we ourselves have been comforted (2 Corinthians 1:4). It is in the fires of affliction that we develop the qualities that make us “iron” believers.

In Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman offers the following excerpt from George Matheson — where Matheson observes that suffering “enlarges” us:

Someone once said of Joseph that when he was in the dungeon, ‘iron entered his soul.’ And the strength of iron is exactly what he needed, for earlier he had only experienced the glitter of gold. He had been rejoicing in youthful dreams, and dreaming actually hardens the heart. Someone who sheds great tears over a simple romance will not be much help in a real crisis, for true sorrow will be too deep for him. We all need the iron in life to enlarge our character. The gold is simply a passing vision, whereas the iron is the true experience of life. The chain that is the common bond uniting us to others must be one of iron. The common touch of humanity that gives the world true kinship is not joy but sorrow — gold is only partial to a few, but iron is universal.

While our culture may argue that suffering only takes away, Matheson asserts the idea that suffering can actually add to us. We are built up by the very trials we wish to escape from. It is from our very prisons that our character is perfected, and our own difficulties help us connect to others in similar trials.

The Other Side of Suffering

We have, in the midst of our suffering, the promise of “the other side.” As Joyce Meyer notes in her New Day, New You devotional, “Learn to endure whatever you need to, knowing that there is joy on the other side!” Like Psalm 30:5 promises, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” We will get victory in the struggle if we have the right mindset, even if we don’t get the resolution or result we want in this life.

My grandmother, a devout Christian, nonetheless struggled with dark bouts of depression and then dementia and Alzheimer’s in her later years. She was an accomplished pianist and the director of music at her church before she retired. I still have memories of her sitting at her large black Steinway grand piano playing and singing in her clear voice at family gatherings.

The woman who very much struggled with her own mental health was still a light to those around her, and even though she lost her battle to Alzheimer’s some time ago, she now has these words on her headstone: “In His presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Although she didn’t experience complete healing on this earth, I now have the reassurance that her ills have been healed. She endured to gain what was hers: fullness of joy in the presence of God.

Our world tells us that happiness is based on circumstances — and when those go bad, we should find an immediate out — a deliverance from. However, the Bible tells us that there is a peace that can transcend all circumstances and a beauty that comes out of some of our most harrowing situations.

Matheson reminds us that God “enlarges” us when we are in “distress” (Psalm 4:1, KJV), and sometimes we must accept that God’s will isn’t for us to get out — but to go through.

*Updated November 18, 2017.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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