fbpx

CHOOSE A CAMPUS:

Brookside

Downtown

Leawood

Olathe

Shawnee

ABOUT

BLOG

GIVE

Chronic Illness and the Good News

l

AUTHOR: Andrew Jones

July 28, 2021

We were having coffee, just catching up. I asked politely about work, about summer schedules, just small talk. Then I asked about family. His whole demeanor changed. The smile faded. The shoulders dropped. The eyes shifted. He told me, “You know, my wife has chronic headaches. Migraines. Sometimes, she can’t get out of bed. It means that every day, we don’t know what we can and cannot do, who we can and cannot see, what we can and cannot enjoy. It is very difficult and lonely for her.” 

“That sounds really hard,” is what I say back. We kept talking about other things. 

Years later, I am sitting in a doctor’s office. An ENT actually. He’s great. Friendly. Competent. He’s telling me that the symptoms I am experiencing are part of a larger phenomenon known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL – because who wants to spell that ever again?): an unexplained but rapid hearing loss in one ear, accompanied by tinnitus (ringing), bouts of vertigo, and a constant sense of “fullness” or congestion. None of the symptoms, mind you, actually mean anything. They all represent the brain’s stubborn attempt to re-establish a connection with the nerve of the inner ear, which is (likely) permanently damaged. It’s a futile attempt to fix something that is fundamentally unfixable. 

How did it happen? I don’t know. The doctor doesn’t know. We never will.  

Anyway, I’m sitting there, realizing that from this moment on, my experience of life will never be the same. And all I can think about is that guy, over coffee, trying to tell me something about his wife and how hard her life is. I do a lot of coffees, a lot of sharing, a lot of listening. I’m a pastor, after all. And I know a lot of people with chronic illness, just stuff that will never go away. I’ve talked to them, held their hands, read them Scripture, prayed over them. But until this moment, I didn’t understand them. What it feels like to know, deep down, there are no next steps, no more doctors, no more meds, no more plans. There’s just a broken body, and the ways you learn to live around it. 

I haven’t shared this with many people. I wasn’t ready. I don’t want this to be a long, drawn out thing about my health. I was listening to someone recently talk about their own chronic illness, and he said, “One of the hardest things about it is that I’m offended when people don’t ask how I am doing, but then I’m exhausted when they do ask how I am doing.” I loved that. It’s so true. I don’t want this blog to be about how I’m doing (I’m really ok). But I’d love to share what I am learning. So here goes…

I need daily bread. During this time with my health, I have learned that some days I can do whatever I want, and some days I just can’t. I have no control over it. My plans are very much plans for the day. I know now more than ever the reason Jesus teaches us to ask for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Not weekly bread. Not monthly. Not quarterly. Not annually. Just daily. Upon further reflection, I think too much of my energy in life has been looking ahead to some hypothetical future, or mulling over some unchangeable past, instead of living the day right in front of me. Now, I find myself concentrating more and more on this idea, to live the day God gave me. There is a design element here: God indeed made us to plan as well for the future as we are able, but more importantly, He made us to live and obey and depend on Him today. When you really begin to pay attention, this idea is all over the Bible. Hebrews 3:12-13 comes to mind: 

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 

My body failing me is difficult, but it also throttles my attention from drifting too far ahead or behind. What can I do today? What does faithfulness look like right now? I need daily bread, and Jesus is happy to give it to me when I ask. I’m asking now more than ever. 

This body is not my home. It’s one thing to feel out of place in the world. It’s another to feel – even just a little – out of place in your body. To feel that your own body is an obstacle to who you want to be and what you want to do. This, by the way, is a feeling we will all experience at one point or another. If illness doesn’t get us, age will. My fellow chronic-illness folks and I are just practicing a little early. 

I hate to admit this, but for most of my 20s and 30s, Paul’s teaching on the new body has been for me a fascinating abstraction. Chronic illness has cured me of that. When I turn to, say, 1 Corinthians 15, rather than reading for mere comprehension, I read for hope. I read for reminders and promises. Promises that reshape my reality. Promises like “what is sown perishable will indeed be raised imperishable”, and that a glory awaits me that I can hardly fathom, just as I cannot fathom the beauty of a rose by merely studying it’s seed. 

I no longer just believe this is true. I need to believe this is true. And there’s a sense in which the culmination of our faith only happens when we don’t just think it; we feel it. 

I feel now, in a way I didn’t before, that while this broken body is a gift, it is also a problem. It has limits, weaknesses, short-comings, and liabilities that I was not designed to carry. But God is not surprised by this, and He gave me good news about it before I knew I needed it. If that is true, if my broken body is not an obstacle to His love and care, then I can trust Him with what comes next. I can trust Him with tomorrow. And so can you. 

More Posts

Who Is Curt Thompson?

Who Is Curt Thompson?

Curt Thompson is not yet a household name in Christian circles, but I believe his insightful voice in the area of spiritual formation and interpersonal neurobiology is really important.

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

Demystifying the Holy Spirit

Many followers of Jesus, myself included, know that the Holy Spirit lives within us and yet struggle to concretely identify what that looks like and miss out on the formation that occurs when we cooperate with Him. There is a need for Christians to demystify the Holy Spirit.

10 Comments

  1. Chip Shockey

    Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing this very personal disappointment and struggle in your life. It can be hard not to think of our leaders as bulletproof and somehow above the struggles of of life having “out-holied” the fallenness of this world that so often plagues the rest of us. Your point about focusing on God’s work and relationship in the present and the abundant scripture that commands that is foundational but can be allusive. Finally, I am just plain sorry you carry this thorn the flesh that diminishes some of your healthy experience of life. But I am also encouraged that you have turned it into a springboard for personal growth and deepened ministry to your flock and friends.

    Reply
    • Andrew Jones

      Thank you, Chip! Appreciate you…

      Reply
  2. Carol Piepho

    Daily bread, yes He gives it if we ask. Clear reminder of the problem with a life free of issues- self reliance. Thank you for the reminder to focus on Him and to ask for Him for our daily bread because He is generous.

    Reply
    • Andrew Jones

      Yes! So important! Thanks Carol…

      Reply
  3. Ashli

    Thank you for this message- parenting a child with a chronic illness and especially during a pandemic feels very isolating and lonely. I appreciate you sharing – I hope your message will help change my perspective.

    Reply
    • Andrew Jones

      That’s so hard, Ashli. I’m so sorry your family has had to go through this. It’s one thing to do this myself; I can’t imagine navigating it with a child.

      Reply
  4. Gregg Coonrod

    This was a big share. Also an encouragement pointing us in the right direction, God and the present. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Andrew Jones

      Appreciate you, Gregg! You’ve taught me a lot about this the last few months…

      Reply
  5. Alicia Boswell

    Thank you for the reminder to depend on Him today and to return to Him every day. I have found myself at age 36 with a couple sudden new conditions- including vestibular migraines, which causes dizziness, headaches, and many other things. I’ve really struggled with the day to day, as I never know how much it will affect me each day, but there is a near constant feeling of dizziness on some level. I am no longer able to work, so I ask myself what am I supposed to do? Thank you again for sharing your story and how you are managing. I easily forget that I need God to guide me through every day, not just some of them.

    Reply
    • Andrew Jones

      I’m so sorry, Alicia. That sounds incredibly difficult. Thank you for sharing and encouraging me in my own struggles. May we both continue to rely on daily bread.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.