By: Jessi Luoma, Resonate Monmouth
My body hasn’t been working right for 9 years now. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called narcolepsy in 2010. My brain has a deficiency in the chemical hypocretin, which is needed for me to stay awake. The boundary between being awake and asleep is blurred so I experience episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness and have random sleep attacks. For some people, including me, narcolepsy is accompanied by cataplexy, which is muscle paralysis triggered by intense emotions. I can’t hold my eyes open when I laugh anymore and I can’t hold my head up when I cry sometimes. I fall asleep in village discussion. I have to excuse myself at times to lay down and take a nap. I’ll listen to someone talk and not comprehend a word they said. I can’t drive for more than 20 minutes. I hate narcolepsy. I hate illness. But I don’t tell you this to pity me, but to be real with how this affects my life. Even though I’m affected every day, I have a mild form of this illness. My heart is burdened for those who have stronger cases than my own.
The good news is that the Bible is chock-full of stories of people suffering and putting their faith in God even when things don’t make sense. One of my favorite stories in all the Bible is the story of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. They are being put to a horrific fiery death for standing up for their faith in God and they proclaim one of the greatest (paraphrased) sentences in all of the Bible. They say that God can deliver them, but even if he doesn’t, he is still good and they will worship Him. They trusted God even if He didn’t come through for them, because they ultimately knew that God himself was enough and spending eternity with him was enough. They weren’t relying on God to simply give them a comfortable life escaping all hard circumstances, but rather His presence in the suffering was what secured them.
The great apostle Paul also speaks to suffering and weakness. In 2nd Corinthians chapter 12 Paul boasts in his inadequacies. What could be more counter cultural than boasting in that? He says that God’s power is made perfect in the midst of his shortcomings. As if our weakness is a perfect mantel for the display of God’s glory.
My husband and I have wept together and prayed that God would heal me. I’ve spent many hours sitting in frustration, doubting God’s goodness, angry with God and confused why this had to happen to me. I’ve spent more days than I’d like to admit researching with a deep longing to find the cause of narcolepsy with hopes of being able to heal myself from it. In other words, on the dark days it feels impossible to trust God with it. It feels isolating and embarrassing and feels nearly impossible to take that next step of faith.
C.S Lewis once wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters where he talks about these dark days in our faith called “the trough periods” in comparison to the good days called “peak periods” and he names it the “law of undulation.” Lewis writes, “God relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best…Our enemy’s cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
What a beautiful thought. That God actually loves these trough moments in our faith because it points to the fact that only the Holy Spirit in our lives can sustain such a weak and wavering faith. He loves these moments when on the surface we have no circumstantial “reason” to obey Him, but we do it anyways. It shows the world that we follow and obey God out of love, and not simply to get something from Him. Despite what American Christianity may tell us, followers of Jesus were never promised health and prosperity.
The truth is, we all have a great illness and it’s called sin. God has healed me of my primary illness, which is my sin. That informs all other things. When I dwell on the fact that God has saved me from my primary illness of sin, it makes my secondary illness of this autoimmune disease fade into the shadow of joy that is reserved for me in the cross of Christ. This ultimate healing from my sin is so much better and eternal, whereas, a bodily healing is temporary. My plea to God was “Why haven’t you healed me yet?” and it has turned into “Look how much glory God can get!” Look how much glory God can get when I say He is better than simply earthly prosperity or what this world could offer. John Piper summed up his entire ministry with this one quote, “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” When the world hears me say that having Jesus is better than a healthy body, that makes Jesus himself my supreme treasure rather than my health. THAT is what makes people want to know who Jesus really is. THAT is what makes Jesus so glorious to an unbelieving world.
In all honesty, I have to admit that I am not past this. There are still dark days. But they make me run to Christ. The crazy thing is that maybe narcolepsy is a blessing in my life. Why? Because when my body fails me, it makes me desperate for Jesus. It forces me to my knees in utter dependence on Him. What a gift that is. Oh would God save us from self-sufficiency in our lives!
So where is Jesus in chronic illness? He’s right there. He understands it all. He sympathizes with all suffering. Perhaps He wants us to just be satisfied with His presence in suffering over deliverance from suffering. Jesus is better.