Emily's Story: Christianity and Chronic Illness
Fight Like a Warrior is not affiliated with any religion or faith, and welcomes personal reflections from people of all religious/spiritual backgrounds. This blog contains a community member’s personal reflections on the intersection of their chronic illness and religious experiences. Though this experience won’t be universal across our FLAW community, we want to provide a platform for chronic illness warriors to reflect on their lives and unique struggles, since their stories may resonate with others.
"What do you do when you don't get better?"
That's the first line of the song "Without You" by For King and Country and, without fail, every time I hear it my response is: I don't know. Because I don't.
I became chronically sick when I was 14 after getting a UTI that led to a whole range of symptoms. Now my main issue is chronic pain syndrome and the mobility issues it causes.
I grew up in a Christian household and have always considered myself a Christian. When I first became ill, some people around me began to weaponize their faith against me. They would say that I wasn't faithful enough, or that I had the Devil in me. I was just a teen, yet I faced hurtful comments like this regularly. When everything first started I was having seizures and my mental health was awful. I felt surrounded by judgment and hate. That is NEVER how Christianity, or any faith, should be. For me, it wasn't just what conversations were being had—but also how.
When I got out of that situation things were rough, spiritually. Every time I thought of God I just heard those hurtful words and had flashbacks. The irony was that the people who wanted me to not lose faith left scars that made it harder for me to reconnect with God. They may not have meant it, but that doesn't take the scars away. The ONLY reason I didn't lose my faith was how God worked through the amazing people he put around me.
I'm now nearly 21 and I still don't have a clue. I’ll support people by suggesting things that may help them. I will look for different aids and have even found some things that help me. I’ve gained more knowledge about my situation—but underneath it all, I still feel clueless. I feel lonely and lost most of the time. I am still that vulnerable, scared teen.
I share all this because I know that I'm not alone, and I want others to know that they aren't either. When you’re feeling lonely, remember that God loves and is with you. I'm sorry if anyone has made you feel like that isn't the case. What people believe is their choice, but no one has the right to weaponize their faith. That sort of human hurt harms those in the disabled/chronically ill community that are struggling with their faith.
Isaiah 54:10 says "’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you" (NIV). Being chronically ill can very much feel as if everything is being shaken up and changed—at least that's how I've felt.
I no longer know what each day will feel like, physically, let alone have a clue about what I may be able to do in the future. This was even more true at the beginning, and people can wrongly make us feel like that uncertainty means we are giving up or worthless. But God’s love doesn't change when we are in that situation (or any situation.) He is still with us. He knows the truth of our situation and loves us.
Some passages that resonated with me, and may be appreciated by Christian readers, are those about us being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139: 13- 14), Psalm 86-15, and Ephesians 1:5-6. That is about YOU. You are loved beyond words. John 3:16? That’s not just for the able bodied and minded, it's for ALL of us.
If you can relate to anything I said, these are a few things that helped me. Just remember that it's different for everyone.
Don't bottle it up. I remember the first time I reached out about everything I'd been through that was affecting my faith. I felt ashamed and it was so difficult, but I'm glad that I did it.
Take it slowly if you have to.
You don't have to hide your emotions.
Learn to love and heal the younger version of yourself that was hurt.
If you choose to go back to church, keep in mind that no church is perfect.
Scrap how you used to do things and explore other options if you have to. For example: if you used to use a prayer journal but it’s now too stressful, try a different way of praying, like prayer acronyms or listening to worship music.
Sometimes God gives us a quick fix for getting through; sometimes he doesn't. I can't tell you why that is–no one can. But what I can say is we all have a different journey, and if chronic illness/disability has been part of yours, you are just as worthy as anyone else.
Emily can be found on Instagram at: @Dyspraxic_creations and @spoonie.brain.support