What is ‘Real’ Strength?

‘God said this once and for all; how many times have I heard it repeated? “Strength comes straight from God.”’ – Psalms 62:11 (MSG)

The life of chronic illness is one of perpetual fatigue and weariness. I constantly feel physically weak, as though weights are attached to every part of my body. Everything from throbbing joint pain, to mentally juggling my medical appointments, to adjusting to yet another diagnosis, is exhausting.

This morning I struggled to get out of bed. I’d had a good night’s sleep, but my body felt drained of energy. I lay in bed for a while before I could convince myself that getting up would be worth the effort. My get-up-and-go, as they say, had already got up and gone.

My get-up-and-go had already got up and gone.

This bone-deep fatigue comes off the back of a tough fortnight filled with stress, crisis and constant pivoting. I did it all, got through it, achieved what was required of me. But it took its toll. And this morning, I felt weakness in every inch of my blood, seeping through my skin like sweat.

The notion of strength that comes from God rather than from my own internal resources is as necessary as breathing for me. I run out of strength very quickly due to living with chronic illness. If I encounter extra stress or illness, my strength pours out of me like water into a sink and disappears just as quickly.

I end up relying on God a lot. Sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Depending on God certainly can be good, but it can also feel quite repetitive to me, daily and sometimes hourly praying the same prayer: ‘God—help!’ Yet chronic illness serves to remind me—frequently—that I can’t do it on my own. I need God, for everything from symptom relief to strength to rest.

These days, my prayer for strength usually goes something like this: ‘God, please provide me with some relief today—or, if not, the strength to endure.’ That strength, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, has to come from God. I have few reserves even on a good day, and when I ask God for help, it’s because I’ve got nothing left. I’m out of spoons.

’God, please provide me with some relief—or, if not, the strength to endure.’

Real strength doesn’t always look like an advert for victorious living (whatever that is). It doesn’t look like faking it. It doesn’t always look like joy or contentment in horrible circumstances; many days of living with chronic illness are marked by survival rather than smiling.

Strength may look like making it through the day in one piece. Strength may look like bowing out of your plans and choosing instead to rest. Strength may look like putting up your hand for help. Strength may look like breathing in and out. Strength may look like clinging furiously to God by your fingernails (which, like mine, may be brittle from autoimmune disease).

Relying on God is respite for us. He doesn’t always take the pain away. He doesn’t always remove the stress or illness. But he has promised to be near in every moment of weakness, every struggle, every bad day. He cares deeply, passionately, about the things we care about. And he has promised to hear our prayers.

He has promised to be near in every moment of weakness, every struggle, every bad day.

If you are reading this, I pray that God will send you relief soon, and in the meantime, that he will fill you with his own real and gentle strength to see you through the day.

Do you, or does someone you know, live with chronic illness? What is ‘real’ strength to you in the midst of illness? How can you lean on God’s strength today? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.

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