Note from Team LO: We are SO excited to bring you this month’s post from our LO sister member, Lauren Styer! If you want to be a part of this incredible community, you can join today and your your first week FREE! Find out more about this online sisterhood HERE. Now, enjoy today’s post from Lauren 🙂
As a chronically ill Christian, the devil sells me one main lie: “my illness and God’s goodness cannot coexist.”
Over the past thirteen years, Crohn’s disease has been my “thorn.” Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing intestinal damage and a whole slew of inflammation-related symptoms. As early as eight years old, I remember trying to reconcile my pain with God’s purpose.
As I pondered my place in God’s eyes, questions of doubt polluted my mind:
What did I do to deserve this illness?
If God actually loves me, why doesn’t he heal me?
How could a broken body fit into God’s plans?
By worldly standards, my value depended on what I could do, instead of what Christ already did. For a girl who sleeps 12 hours a day, runs to the restroom every thirty minutes, and requires immunotherapy, a meaningful life appeared inconceivable.
Unrooted in God’s word, the presence of my pain seemed to indicate an absence of His affection.
But friend, this logic is simply unbiblical. Let’s dispel this lie by replacing it with God’s truth and equip ourselves with biblical instruction for endurance.
Maybe you don’t struggle with a chronic illness, but we all struggle with chronic issues. Whether you were born with an incurable disease or the scars of your childhood abuse still plague your mind or the same addiction continues creeping into your life, God tells us that no trial can separate us from His Love (Rom. 8:35).
In fact, our pain might be the very tool God uses to strengthen our relationship with Him. So, as we think about chronic illness, let’s redirect our minds from asking “what could I have done differently to prevent my pain,” to instead asking, “God, how are you working through my pain?”
Two purposes come to mind when I consider how God can work through our pain to refine our faith: reliance and glory.
1. RELIANCE – God can use our pain to encourage us to rely more fully on Him.
For those of us struggling to understand why God allows hardship to ensue, the book of Job is a masterpiece written just for us. The bible describes Job as a faithful man with many blessings. To test whether Job will still praise God’s name even when his life crumbles, God allows Satan to wreak havoc on Job’s life – striking his flesh and bones with sickness, infecting him with skin boils, and turning his family away (Job 1:4-9). Job is not only chronically ill, but also chronically lonely, as his loved ones tell him to just give up and curse His Creator.
Let’s pause right here. God allows Satan to test Job. Now, why would God do this? Among many reasons, God uses suffering as a tool to refine Job’s faith. God knows that it is in the valleys that we are encouraged to rely on our powerful Creator.
Amid adversity, Job’s mind is a battlefield much like my own; his thoughts oscillate between wanting God to leave Him alone and begging for God’s support. In the end, through his wrestle with God, Job remains faithful that God’s promises are true. He trusts that God Loves him in his pain and is working all things together for good.
As we learn in Job, sometimes God allows for illness, not to punish His children, but to strengthen their relationship with Him.When trials arise, may we trust that God’s plans are purposeful. This means that whether we are battling a seasonal cold or fighting for our lives after tragedy strikes, God’s loving hand is in everything.
2. HIS GLORY – The contrast of our weakness with His Power emphasizes our need for a Savior.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes pleading with the Lord to remove a “thorn in his flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). In my own life, my “thorn” represents my disease.
Jesus addresses Paul’s request by equipping him with endurance and explaining that his pain has a purpose. Jesus answers, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My Power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In this story, Paul’s pain serves as a reminder of his inherent inadequacy to our all-powerful God, ultimately pointing to his need for a Savior.
Though Jesus denies Paul’s request for healing, Jesus assures him that His grace will help him endure. Paul is not blessed with physical healing, but instead, with a more valuable and versatile blessing: the ability to see God’s light in the darkness of his valley. God doesn’t leave us to dwell in our pain, He helps us endure.
Jesus’ response gives hope to those of us whose prayers for healing seemingly go unanswered. Next time we ask God to remove our “thorn”, may we remember that a lack of healing is not evidence of a distant God. God always responds to our requests; His responses just might differ from what we planned. No matter the response, if we trust God with our lives, we can be sure that He is working for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28).
As we learn from Paul’s interaction with Jesus, some of our wounds will only heal once we go home to Heaven, but we can trust that our pain is a part of a beautiful redemption story.
Let’s look at another example of how God can work through our pain to reveal His Power. In John 9, Jesus is walking around town with His disciples when they spot a man who is blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples ask him a question that might sound like one you’ve asked yourself before: “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). Sound familiar? The disciples mistakenly assume that this man’s disability is due to his personal sin.
Jesus corrects his disciples, responding, “neither this man nor his parents sinned…This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (Jn. 9:3). With this declaration, Jesus dispels the lie that the only purpose for our pain is punishment, and He communicates that our pain can be used to display God’s power.
Jesus then heals the blind man, confirming his belief and establishing an eternal relationship.
Before his healing, we can’t be sure of how this man’s disability affected his self-esteem, but he might have believed some of the same lies that often ravage our minds. When measuring himself against societal standards, he very well could have attributed his disability to a distant God. However, when Jesus enters the picture, it becomes clear that this man’s disability was the very tool God utilized to strengthen his relationship with Him.
As we reflect on these stories, the Word illuminates God’s heart for the chronically ill: God has a purpose for our pain, His Love does not waver, and He will work all things together for good, even the messy parts of our lives.
God does not promise to remove our thorns, but He does promise to help us endure. Whatever your thorn looks like, may you remember that God provides a peace that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6-7).
Throughout my battle with autoimmune flares, medical mysteries, and shattered plans, one verse has lit a spark of hope in my soul: “We do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:12).
Friend, however deep your thorns dig, may you never give up.
Lauren Styer is a Junior at Seattle Pacific University and a member of LO sister. She is a lover of the Lord who wants everyone to know the sweetness of our Savior. Lauren’s prayer is to encourage others to praise His name, even in the messiest of moments. God has placed on Lauren’s heart a passion for supporting people with disabilities, and she’s excited to use that passion in whatever calling He has planned for her.
Follow Lauren on Instagram @laurenstyer