Carolyn MacDonald found out she had a chronic illness in 2019. Here she shares how she heard God speaking through the pain of the diagnosis.
At the end of 2018 I returned home to the UK after studying at Bible college in Australia for a year. Looking back, I can see that my transition back home was rather rushed and I felt quite overwhelmed in the months following my return. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and God graciously uses it to teach us and refine us. In the first few months of 2019 I started experiencing intense pain in my hands and knees, this was coupled with feeling easily fatigued by simple every-day tasks.
I was fortunate in that the GP I started seeing was very understanding and took time to listen to my backstory as well as trying to understand the pain I was experiencing in the present. After various hospital appointments and consultations, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called fibromyalgia. It’s a long-term condition which is not commonly known, the main symptoms are widespread pain in the body, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint stiffness, struggles with mental processing (often called fibro-fog), and difficulty sleeping.
The journey since my diagnosis has often been an uphill struggle and God has used this time to humble me and teach me.
God used this to show me that He alone is perfect, that He calls me to be faithful rather than perfect.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been somewhat of a perfectionist. I like to do things perfectly first time and often give up if I fail or struggle with something, I like to be independent and really struggle to ask for help, and I often ruminate over past mistakes and how I could have done things differently.
So, to suddenly have physical limitations that I have never experienced before was a huge challenge to my ingrained perfectionism. God used this to show me that He alone is perfect, that He calls me to be faithful rather than perfect, and that even in my brokenness, His beauty and goodness can still shine through. 2 Corinthians 4:7 shows that we are like jars of clay, and that God shines His light through our cracks and brokenness.
Many of us enjoy watching or reading a good fantasy story. As a society, we’re fascinated by the stories of make-believe worlds and superheroes in our own world. However, our human limitations are what make us realise our need for God and how He graciously allows for us to fully rely on Him.
I have learnt that I need to rely on God for my strength on a daily basis, and that only He can give us the strength that we need to keep going in the face of our limitations.
After my diagnosis, it took me a long time to accept my new physical limitations and the fact that these were going to be long-term. In coming to terms with these limitations I have learnt that I need to rely on God for my strength on a daily basis, and that only He can give us the strength that we need to keep going in the face of our limitations.
Learning to Rest
We live in a society that praises hustling, achieving goals, and aiming to be the best in our fields of interest. This can often lead to low self-esteem, comparison and burn out. As a result of this, rest has become the least of many of our priorities and is only turned to out of necessity.
When living with a chronic illness, rest becomes a required part of your regular routine, sometimes by choice and at other times as a result of a flare up of symptoms. This has helped me to redefine what rest means; a combination of listening to my body and looking to honour God in the ways that I rest.
There is no straight forward path to living with a chronic illness, but we can know that we are not walking this path alone as God is by our side.