I once heard the comparison that life with chronic illness was sort of like “living in the parenthesis.” It can sound like a bad Christmas letter. . .
We have had the most fabulous year (despite mom being in the hospital a couple of weeks). We had a wonderful trip to the lake and went camping (mom stayed in a motel nearby) and everyone waterskiied and sunbathed (except mom, she can’t be in the sun or ski so she just watched from under a canopy). We went to see the caves (mom couldn’t walk the stairs so she just rested at the motel). We are looking forward to getting together with you this year (Mom can’t travel so we hope you can visit us!)
Does life ever feel that way? Over in the Rest Ministries Sunroom Bet shared her heart on acknowledging her body’s need to rest, yet also feeling like she is missing out on life.
Rest. It’s what my body needs me to do. When I was well, I would have loved a day like this. To just rest. But when you lose two weeks of the month or more to chronic pain it’s not so fun anymore. Sometimes I think I’m becoming invisible. That I’m so removed from life that I’m not here anymore. Sometimes, the effort it takes to go somewhere, get things done is just too much.
Yes, we can so relate! It’s so easy for us to feel as though we are slipping into the background of everyone’s life. We may be present, but we aren’t talking a lot. It’s too exhausting. We aren’t participating. We may be there, but we are resting. And laughing? Will our children grow up ever remembering what our laughter even sounds like?
Sarah shares that she feels this way sometimes. “I feel often that life is just surviving. I do feel invisible to many around and I do feel like an observer in life. I watch other people living their life.”
Linda says she sometimes feels invisible too. “When we have visitors I can chat for about twenty minutes, and then I get quieter and quieter, and eventually I feel like ‘the vegetable in the corner’ who nobody makes eye-contact with.”
So how do you cope with these feelings?
There are no easy answers, but here are a few ways to redirect your thoughts to help keep some perspective. “So many times I hear from others trying to be helpful to ‘just be more positive.'” says, Barb. “If positive thinking were the cure, that would be fabulous!”
We all know “positive thinking” likely will not “cure us” but by trading in our thoughts of negativity to focusing on God’s promises we can know that we are giving our very best to the art of coping.
You may be familiar with the scripture Jeremiah 29:11. This is one of my favorites as far as promises go.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
Let’s break this down to see how it can be a coping tool for us when we start to feel invisible in this life.
God has plans for you
Even though there may be days when you don’t feel this to be true, it is one of God’s promises. It is not a matter of opinion, it just is. God has plans for you–even if you are never healed here on earth. God’s plans include prospering, not harm, God will give you a hope and a future. It doesn’t matter what your doctors say, or your test results–only God knows how much time you have here on earth and He has plans for you right up until your last breath.
As the saying goes “Don’t put trouble in your wheelbarrow. It’s heavy enough as it is.” Life is full of sufferings, and we each have quite a wheelbarrow of burdens we may be pulling around, so don’t add to it by thinking your best year are past you. You never know what God has for tomorrow.
God has plans that are prosperous for you!
Sarah agrees. “[God] has me sitting on the sidelines for His purpose. He certainly is refining me in ways that I had never imagined. So whatever His purposes are He does have a purpose for each of us even if we can’t see it. We need to trust He knows what is best for us.”
Is that easy? Not necessarily. It is true and beneficial? Yes!
“When I am out in the world, sometimes I get this weird feeling like I’m not a part of it,” confesses Bet. “Like the whole world is just going about their business without issue. And there I am, the struggling one.”
Though we may feel like we are the struggling one, think of yourself as the one whom God is blessing with wisdom. You are different. You are suffering. But you have been set apart by the Lord Himself to become one who knows Him in a much more intimate way then even some of the most well-known pastors you may watch on television today. Because you are suffering for Christ. And Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39)
God promises not to harm us
I love Sarah’s words about suffering and turning to God for our needs. “He hears our cries and gives us everything we need to get through each difficulty or crisis. We often want out of the crisis but He never promised to take us out–just through.”
Ah, yes. He never promised to take us out of our trials. . . just through. Though the pain you are experiencing may feel as though it is harmful, it is not intended that way. I was awake off and on nearly all night with aching shoulder pain that nothing could stop. I am sitting in my chair in the living room now, unable to even move my left arm. But when I prop is up just so, I can type. And I have written this article. God can use anything. Had I felt decent today I would not have spent this time, I would have been doing laundry, cleaning, etc., but God gave me a shortcut to learning what Martha learned.
Have you read this scripture before? When we are in a lot of pain, we just go straight to Jesus’ feet- no cooking or cleaning!
“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)
Believe God does have a purpose
My favorite scripture I sign all my books with is Psalm 119:50. “My purpose in my suffering is this, Your promise perseveres my life.” I may suffer, but it does have a purpose, and God’s promises persevere my life!
Imagine that. God’s promises are not meant to just reassure us. They are meant to renew our life! Refresh it! Keep my life from rotting or going stale! And how do God’s promises preserve my life? Through my suffering! They will do it for you too.
God promises us hope
“Invisible. It is so helpful to share with someone who can really understand what you are experiencing,” says Barb. “Sharing with others going through like circumstances helps tremendously.” One of the ways hope can come is through the conversations we have with friends.
Many people here at Rest Ministries have found some true friendships in the Sunroom. In fact, we’ve heard from people who signed up and didn’t come back for six months, only to later discover a whole world of gals and guys who “get it” when it comes to living with illness and staying encouraged through our faith. Whether it’s through friends in your hometown, or a social network, have a “go to” place for when you need to express the emotions you are dealing with.
God promises us a future
When you have had weeks or even months of bad days it seems like there may never be a good day again. The odds are, however, there will be days that you can do something you enjoy, even if it is just a small something. “Some days can be very hard. On those days I don’t even want to answer the door, or look outside the window, I just want to be left alone,” says Lillie. “But those days will come and go, and good days will come along too. And O, how I thank the Lord for those good days!”
What brings you joy? Hopefully you can answer something besides, “Going to Disneyland!” Think small. Is it watching a romantic comedy? Listening to some upbeat music? Turning on a sermon on your computer to spend some time learning something in the word? Playing with your cat? Joy doesn’t have to be in big packages to still be pure joy. When you think of pampering yourself, what is it that you can do? Stop yourself if you start thinking of things you cannot do! Focus on the possibilities.
There are times that having the promise of a future is all we need to get through one more day!
It can be easy to get into the habit of reading a scripture and thinking it was meant just for those people in Biblical times, or for the people of today–who are healthy. Nope! God’s promises are for you too!
Say this scripture with me inserting your name in the blank spot. Read it out loud right now with your name. Personalize it. Make it your own! Tape it to your bathroom mirror. It is one of God’s promises for you!
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,________’ declares the Lord, ‘I plans to prosper _____________ and not to harm ______________, plans to give ________________ hope and give ___________ a future.'”
Wow. Powerful stuff, huh?
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.