If you are a person of a faith, I think the discipline of prayer interact becomes critical when you have a chronic illness. It gets you in touch with God on a regular basis and reminds you that there is a purpose to why we are here beyond just getting ahead as an individual. You soon realize that God can heal damaged souls, and perhaps that is more important than healing a damaged body. It also reminds you that while your mortal life will end at some point, there is something glorious to anticipate. All of these epiphanies cures the anxiety out of nagging thoughts like “when I die is that the end?”
I can only speak to the faith that I know which is the Christian faith. But I have to think that other faith traditions are similar. In the Christian faith, we believe that God sent his son into the earth to save us. The salvation was two-fold. He saved us to live a better life on this earth by recognizing that God has given us talents we must us to benefit the other creatures that God put on this earth. And of course, God sacrificed Christ to death so that he could be resurrected and lead us in a journey that will end in God’s heavenly kingdom.
When you have a regular prayer life, I think it is normal for each of us with chronic illness for God to ask us for healing. If it isn’t in the cards for a total healing, we ask for the patience to learn to manage the illness. But sometimes the ability to manage the illness comes from the act of praying itself. As you find the words to express to God the devastation that the chronic illness has created in your life, you are able to vent. Venting is a good thing because it gets out the emotions. Sometimes I think it is the emotions as much as the pain and discomfort of the illness that weighs us down.
As you vent, you begin to see not only what is weighing you down, but what you need to lighten your burden. In other words, putting the problem into words is sometimes the first step in finding a fix or a workaround and moving forward. As you see the solutions to your immediate chronic illness problems, you will begin to realize that you can have pretty intimidating health issues and still live a productive, meaningful life.
You may be wondering what do I mean by a productive and meaningful life? What do I mean by the term a “productive life”? Given my life pre-heart failure, and the routine emphasis on job success, one might think that I am referring to achieving career accomplishments. While at this point in my life I certainly do not discard the notion of being productive on the job or in other “me oriented” life endeavors. But, to me the focus has shifted to a productive life that recognizes that we need to help our fellow humans along the path that we call life.
In the Christian faith, we follow the lessons Christ has taught us, and become witnesses of our covenant with God. I have talked with other chronic illnesses patients and when we pray to God to provide healing mercies to us, what we are really saying is this. “God, if we were able to feel a little more energetic, just think of the faith witness we could provide to others that we meet along the path of our lives on this earth.”
Each of these patients has inspired me by their faith in God, and how they still find many blessings to be thankful for despite their symptoms and the weariness of their treatment. I can see a light in their eyes as they talk, and I can hear the compassion in their voices as they ask how I am doing and cheer me on in my treatment endeavors. These patients feel a calling to spread joy and calm and kindness despite their own challenges.
But the fatigue makes it hard sometimes to get out as much as they would like in the world. And if they can’t get out into the world each and every day, then how can they inspire others to give faith a chance? Accordingly, the prayer I have for each of us chronic illness patients is that God will give us if not the healing, the energy and the patience to find a way to get our stories out to others.
We need to be living proof of our faith. We need to show that that illness or other bad fortunes are not obstacles because when your life is centered in a faith tradition, it can help you withstand some really bad times. Your faith tradition can help you see that is it is not monetary success, power and/or influence that will free you from your burdens. Even if your faith ultimately does not heal your ills, it will help to strengthen you to make it through each and every day with determination to make God’s world a better place. Your faith will help you to help others to rise above their challenges and celebrate the privilege to live on this earth.
My interaction with others who have chronic illness is important because we lift one another up when it looks like we don’t have the energy to go one step further. We help each other to know not only that “you’ve got this” but that each of us is there to provide an ear, a place to vent, a place to see God at work in our lives. In fact, I sometimes believe that my fellow chronic illness patient have the super power of x-ray vision. We are able to see inside each other and isolate the strength that resides within each of us. We help each other direct our attention to the wonderful qualities that help us to not only survive but thrive. What a beautiful thing!
Do we really have the super power of x-ray vision? Probably not. But we do have an ability to listen to each other without judgment and to see beyond the problem that the patient is trying to manage. We can see the positive force that is there, just waiting for someone to ask it out to play. Each of us may have a chronic illness, but each of us can still have a sparkle in our eyes, a lilt in our voice, a joke in our repertoire, and the courage to fight the good fight against not just our illness but again the circumstances that weigh own others that we love and cherish.
I believe that the chronic illness patients I know can do all of this because our prayer life has opened a priority line of communication to our God. The lines are open 24/7, anytime we need to unburden our anxieties, rage at the chronic illness wind, or seek guidance on where we need to go next or how we can help others. Because we are in this constant state of communication with our God, we can also hear his message which is always filled with signs that God has our backs. It’s a good feeling.
I invite you if you don’t already do this to have God help you look inward to find your own resources that will help you rise above your circumstances. And I ask you to have God help you look outward to determine what role he placed you on this earth to fulfill, and how you go about fulfilling that destiny. Knowing that you have a purpose can help you silence the negative thoughts, enabling you to rise up and meet the future that is your destiny.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.