We are all strugglers. In Christian theology it's a part of life on earth after the fall. Sin entered the world and as a result, we suffer. Some suffering passes like a light shower. We feel the weight of the burden, but soon enough we have been carried through and are able to testify of God's providence in our woe.
But how are we to cope during the monsoon seasons of suffering? And how can it possibly be used for good? When I started battling chronic illness two years ago, I wasn't certain of the answer to these questions. But God used this time to bless me greatly, and to highlight my great need for Him.
I was one weary pilgrim in 2012. A prolonged period of stress saw my energy levels plummet, with no sign of return. I lost my appetite and agility. Dizziness and nausea soon became the norm. Joint and muscle pain had me popping pills during the day, and crying throughout the night. I couldn't pour the jug with one hand anymore and it was a challenge to get dressed.
What reason underlay my loss? The doctor didn't know. When I was physically unable to get out of bed in the morning I reluctantly had to withdraw from my courses and leave a job that I loved. I was, for the best part, bedridden. I barely saw friends anymore. I felt isolated, scared and depressed. And after five long months of not knowing what was driving my deterioration, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Prolonged struggles cause us to question what we know, what we believe. I had to examine my faith, and ask myself if I believed God's promises in the Word. Ask myself and it was that I loved, worshipped, trusted and hoped in. And where my comfort and joy were found. Was Christ truly the solid rock on which I stood?
My grieving over the loss of my former life told me that I had placed much security, identity and worth in my worldly status. That my comfort often lay in things here on earth. But now here I was, as are we all in the midst of the storm, unable to shield myself with worldly assets and occupations, unable to boast in my works and achievements.
The Lord humbles us so that we may seek Him and know Him. I learnt this truth substantially as fragments of my life fell away. Cracks began to appear in my pride. As I was examining my faith, the Lord was humbling me. When we are on our knees in despair, utterly broken, weak and desperate, we our great need for Christ. In a way that we just can't when we're strolling through sunnier seasons, not being confronted by our inability to strengthen or save ourselves.
Nothing but Christ
I now knew I genuinely had to boast in but Christ (Galatians 6 verse 14). I had now how the Lord gives, and how the Lord can take away (Job 1 verse 21). And how it was not I that was in control of my life, but that it was Him who was sovereign. By humbling us, God strengthens our faith.
God has made us promises that we can hold on to. When all else slips through our fingers, it is His promises in the Bible that we can cling on to. The Lord has shown me time and time again throughout this journey, that He is faithful to His promises. I pitched a tent in 2 Corinthians 12 verses 9-10, and spent many nights there. There I was assured that His grace was sufficient for me, that His power was made perfect in my weakness, so that in my utter weakness, in Him I was strong.
He has promised us that when weary and burdened, it is Him that our souls can find rest in (Matthew 11 verse 28). He has promised to give strength to the weak (Isaiah 40 verses 29-31). He has promised us a peace that nothing in the world can bring us (John 14 verse 27). In my isolation and loneliness, I found true comfort in His promise to never leave nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31 verse 6) and that can separate us from His love (Romans 8 verses 37-39).
And ultimately, what kept me going was being able to remind myself of the gospel, that Christ died for sinners like myself, that all of my sins were nailed to the Cross with Him, that I may know the Father, and have eternal life with Him. Knowing that there was nothing could do, to redeem myself, or make myself more worthy before God, or more lovable, allowed me rest. Knowing that there is no sin too great for Him to forgive, but that He covers all of our sin, blotting out our transgressions, is an amazing grace indeed.
By His grace He allows for us to see our need for Him and for others. It was during this period that I realised the necessity of fellowship. What it means to have brothers and sisters bear in your burdens with you.
My flatmates cooked every night, they changed my sheets, they dried my hair, they prayed with me. A couple from my church took me in as their own and would have me to stay with their family, keeping me company and showing me His love. I am also sure that had it not been for the biblical teaching that I was under within the church, the storm would have been all the more overwhelming. I know that if I'd been hoping in the power of positive thinking or under the false impression that Christianity would bring me health, wealth and prosperity, it would not have sustained me.
I was grateful for the knowledge of biblical theology that I'd been given. I was humbled to know my need for Christ, and blessed to know how near to me He was in my suffering.
Scarlett Jones' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/scarlett-jones.html