I haven’t eaten Taco Bell in years. As an adult, I succumbed to the fact that my body really only ever rejected such an offering. “I’m gonna regret this,” I’d say to my high school friends when grabbing a quick burrito before practice. We all laughed. But, at some point, it wasn’t funny anymore.
I’ve suffered moderate to severe stomach pain since I was fourteen. As I write this, cramps that pulse up and down my abdomen, seemingly catching on other organs and twisting and turning make it hard to breathe. This is normal for me. And it has been for seventeen years.
I can hear my son giggling with his daddy and I think of the many moments I miss while curled over in the bathroom. I’m weary of missed moments, of asking for prayer again, of being scared to eat, of fearing the next attack. I’m weary of chronic illness.
Here’s a cliche for you: this is my thorn. One of them I guess. The one I face almost daily.
Chronic illness is mixed with both nagging moments and debilitating ones. Sometimes it acts as a thistle stuck under my shirt—constantly badgering me with reminders that my body is broken. Other times, it’s like a thorn—no, more than that—a knife starting at the top of my abdomen and cutting deeply in an “s” shape to the bottom. Over and over; deeper and deeper.
Often, I’ve begged God to take it away. I don’t believe he will though, while I walk this earth. How’s that for honesty? For faith and vulnerability? I know God can take it away, but belief that he actually will flees my mind.
Yet, I know he’s using it. That in these moments no human sees, when I experience pain so fierce I can’t speak, God is near. He sees. He knows. He cares. That’s the refrain I’ve learned to repeat in suffering—the same words I often say to friends or acquaintances in their suffering. That, and the needed reminder from my mentor: “he is wise, he is sovereign, he is good.”
And he is good. He’s good when, in the middle of dinner with my family I feel the first cramps—evidence of another long night. He’s faithful when frustration expands in my heart from plans sabotaged by my own body. He’s near when I utter tired prayers in my mind, begging him to spare me the pain. Somehow, the pain, sickness, frustration, and weariness are worth the experience of his nearness and peace.
And there it is…he’s using it to grow me. More than that, to draw near to me so that I may experience his goodness in suffering. He is faithful. He is faithful. He is faithful. And then suddenly, my chronic illness seems less like a thorn and more like a…gift.
“Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”C.H. Spurgeon
Oh Lord, help me believe it.