There are times in my wonderful, creative, blessed life when I feel imprisoned.
I know I am a free white person and I understand the social and political privileges that come with that.
I am living with chronic illness. And there are days when I feel caged in on all sides.
Chronic illness is a strange beast. Lupus, in particular, is difficult to understand because it defies understanding. It does not follow a routine course and it does not tell you what is going on. How do you live with a roommate with whom you cannot even communicate?
It defies understanding.
Lupus is incredibly unpredictable. You can cruise along for months, rolling with the ebbs and flows of fluctuating energy, thinking, “Yeah, I got this. I can cope with having a bit less energy today. I can make that work.”
Then a flare hits you out of nowhere.
Like the other week. I sat in a bad position at church. That was all. I was in agony afterwards.
I assumed it would go away but it did not. In fact, it got worse rather than better. The pain became so severe I was unable to move. Frozen. Paralysed. I was unable to do simple things like shower and brush my teeth and go to work. Standing up was a new adventure in torture.
I became a prisoner in my own body.
Is there a Christian response to this? I suspect this is a subject for a new book. (I might have to write it. I might call it Surviving Chronic Illness.) But right now I have a few thoughts to share.
What is the Christian response?
Firstly, when I am imprisoned in my own body, I pray for healing. Healing is a tricky thing. Sometimes healing takes a while. Sometimes healing comes in the form of tests and medical treatment. Sometimes healing is a process that sheds light on unrelated, hidden issues.
Sometimes healing is more about learning and patience and fortitude than pain relief. I have learned much about myself, my self-care needs and my limitations from chronic illness.
Secondly, I remember God’s character. I remember he is faithful (note: this does not mean he is a genie who grants my every wish). I remember his love and companionship and peace, steadfast through any trial. I relish the friendship I have with him. Most days, that is enough.
Thirdly, I look at the world around me, the beauty the Creator has established in 360-degree panoramic splendour. I drink in the colours until I am swimming in them. I am reminded that even in the midst of absolute pain and non-functioning, the world is still overflowing with beauty.
This is a marvel and a mystery, one that I do not pretend to understand. I cannot fathom how such breathtaking beauty and suffocating suffering can co-exist in the same moment. But they do.
Breathtaking beauty and suffocating suffering can co-exist in the same moment.
Is there a lesson here? If there is, I do not think I have yet grasped it. But perhaps the prisoner can find beauty in a place of imprisonment. Perhaps joy is possible even there.
Do you have a story of surviving chronic illness? Do you relate to the experience of imprisonment by pain? What helps when you feel trapped? Share your story – let’s have a countercultural conversation.