I can recall hearing the words “chronic illness” being spoken from a stage twice in my lifetime. Once was during a worship service during my orientation to Wheaton College in 2016. The other was also at Wheaton College, this time from my own lips as I shared about my illness in chapel the following year.
Since chronic illness is so infrequently discussed publicly, it leaves many people who are chronically ill dangling alone with unaddressed theological, emotional, and intellectual questions. For me, many of these questions centered around how the existence of chronic illness could possibly fit together with the love of God.
It wasn’t until spring of my sophomore year at Wheaton when I began studying systematic theology that I entered a safe space in which I could ask and deeply work through these questions.
A Glimpse into My Story
I have been chronically ill for nearly a decade—I started to develop my symptoms when I was 10 years old. The past nine and a half years have been a long and painful journey of doctors’ appointments and symptoms that have at times pushed my endurance to its limits. I am officially diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), although since there is no test for IBS and my symptoms often vary from a typical experience of IBS, I cannot be completely sure of this diagnosis. However, having any diagnosis—even if its accuracy is tentative – is helpful in the chronic illness world because a diagnosis can give you access to the accommodations you need.
People often ask me what it is like to be chronically ill. The answer to such a question is long, because chronic illness affects virtually every aspect of my life. I once wrote a 25-page description of some of the ways my illness affects me to help a few of my closest friends understand better. I’m currently writing a book reflecting on my journey thus far with chronic illness and the ways I have seen Christ through it.
But here’s an attempt at a shorter answer: I am in near constant abdominal pain. I have a list of 12 dietary restrictions I must abide by to avoid having flares. I am frequently nauseous for most of the day. My body is usually too exhausted to push through a whole day without a nap. I often have headaches and I’m generally dizzy. I’ve had portions of time in which I was bleeding internally. I have random joint pains. I wrestle with brain fog and confusion that makes it difficult to think.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of my symptoms, but hopefully it provides a snapshot with which to imagine my life.
Christ is with me through it all.
I’ve tested negative to so many illnesses that I’ve lost count. I’ve passed out or fallen to the ground from lightheadedness enough times that it no longer startles my roommate. I’ve missed dozens of social occasions to stay alone in my room, managing pain or resting my fatigued body. I’ve had flares of pain so severe I wondered if I ought to go to the emergency room. I’ve advocated for myself more than almost any person I know. I’ve put in four times as much work as most of my classmates in order to combat my confusion and achieve the same grades.
I’ve cried more tears than I can keep track of.
God holds them all.
A decade of deep suffering has led me to ask a lot of hard questions. Does the existence and persistence of my chronic illness prove that God is not love? I wholeheartedly believe that God could fully and instantly heal me at any moment in this life. I am fully confident that one day he will completely heal me when we are given our new, resurrected bodies following the return of Christ.