faith, illness, testimony

What Suffering Teaches Us and Why It’s Important To Talk About It

I’m sitting here watching Netflix.

Again.

While I sit half watching, half interested, I’m contemplating what I could be or should be doing right now.

In a perfect world, I’m sure I’d be baking cookies and serving them to the neighbor children who were invited to play in my perfectly clean house.

But, we don’t live in a perfect world.

We live in this world.

This world where I’m far from perfect and struggle through life in a sickly, illness-riddled body.

On the days when my body is hurt-free enough to clean and care for my family, my brain doesn’t cooperate.

On the days my brain can focus, my sickly body doesn’t cooperate.

It’s rare when both are working well on the same day.

When I first started speaking out about my illness and trying to encourage women through their struggles, I criticized for “letting women off the hook,” for allowing that any of us should be less than perfect.

The specific criticism was that most people do not deal with chronic health problems, therefore, I was wrong to even imply that anything less than perfect performance was acceptable.

I was told that I was a rare exception.

Some people were unwilling to give those of us with chronic or even terminal illnesses an exception to the perfect performance expectation.

First of all, God does not expect perfection from us in the way that was expressed to me. He is a holy God who cannot tolerate our sin. We have fellowship with Him because when He looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness, imputed righteousness.

But, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about perfect external performance from the view of those around us.

It’s important to note here that Jesus was perfect and the religious people of His day thought He was far from perfect.

They crucified Him.

Even those who knew Him best, His disciples misunderstood Him, misjudged Him, and abandoned or betrayed Him.

Even those very close to Jesus couldn’t see what God was doing.

This is important to understand, because it is the same in our lives.

What’s the difference between sin and imperfect outward performance?

A sin would be a lie. That’s clearly wrong.

An imperfection would be forgetting your keys for example.

Although, I have heard some people try to make being forgetful into a sin issue, it is not.

God does not expect us to always do everything exactly right and perfect in a flawless way.

God expects our best, not a perfect outward performance.

He knows we are flesh and that’s why we can’t do everything without a hiccup.

His power is made perfect in our weakness. He wants our weaknesses. That means we will be weak.

We should continue to mature in our faith and we should not live in sin, but, He does not expect perfect outward performance, a standard that we often expect from ourselves and others.

Don’t mistake God-permitted weaknesses –something that He’s using in our lives for His– as a character flaw.

The argument was put to me that almost no one deals with the stuff I do, and so my teaching was not appropriate, that it was tainted, giving people an out from behaving in a responsible, godly way.

It wasn’t until later when I looked into statistics about people who live with chronic illness that I realized that my position on this topic was indeed very relevant.

Did you know that nearly 1 of every 2 people live with a chronic illness or live in chronic pain? Let’s assume that that number includes those with genetic disorders, mental health disorders, and developmental disorders. It may not, but for simplicity let’s assume that.

That means that one out of every 2 or 3 people reading to this do belong to the group of us who need an extra measure of grace because of our health or mental health.

That means that half of the people you know are struggling with life due to their health.

Half of the people in your church.

Half of the people at your work.

You might argue that it can’t be that many or you’d know about it.

I assure you, we are very very good at hiding our struggles. We often only tell our struggles to those we are very closest to due to the amount of criticism we receive even in the Christian community –where of all places we should have support.

One of every two people you know.

One of every two people reading to this.

That’s a lot of people.

That’s a big percentage of the population.

I’m not far out there teaching about issues that a super small amount of people deal with.

This is something that needs to be address.

This is something affecting people.

Lots of people every day.

If you’re sick, just know that God is working through your illness. This is what God is doing in your life.

It’s not a character flaw that you need to overcome so that God can work in you. This IS what God is doing in you –this illness, or struggle, or pain, or trial.

This is God at work in you.

Don’t let anyone shame you into thinking that somehow you are less because of this struggle.

On the other hand, if you’re one of those people who gets up in the morning, makes a plan and a list, and none of those things are left at the end of the day. If you never struggle with getting the important things done, if your health or mental health never causes you problems, then my writing might not seem to apply to you.

But, it would probably benefit you to listen to what I have to say anyway.

Because you should be aware of the problems the people around you are having before you make judgments about them.

Before you make a judgement and decide that someone is in sin because their life doesn’t look perfect from the outside, you should consider that –rather than it being the result of a negative thing like sin, it is the result of a positive thing –like God working in their life.

God’s methods of growing us are rarely pleasant or easy.

It looks very messy from the outside.

But, if you’re willing to look beyond that, you will find that God is actually doing something beautiful in our lives.

If you’re the one in the middle of the trial, don’t fight God.

Don’t resent His shaping and molding you.

That’s exactly what He’s doing: like a father trains the child he loves, God allows trials in our lives to mold us and make us more like Him.

It’s a wonderful, beautiful, messy business.

And, when someone –probably someone religious– inevitably misjudges or mistreats you, take comfort that they misjudged and mistreated Jesus too.

Ultimately, the purpose of our pain is the strengthening of our faith as we choose to glorify God in our pain and in spite of our pain. 

Don’t let yourself lose sight of what God’s doing in your life and in the lives of those around you. 

This messy, beautiful life can still bring glory to God.

It is all part of God’s wonderful plan.

Blessings,

Sarah

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