Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to the world you never wanted to live in

This blog is for reflection on suffering with chronic illness--how to understand it, cope with it, and perhaps overcome it through the power of Jesus Christ. It is a place to testify, to question, to lament, to hope, and to learn.

What is chronic illness? It is an ailment that is not terminal, but not curable. It baffles the medical establishment and is usually left unresearched. Those subject to its cruelties endlessly try new cures: alternative medicines, special prayer, new traditional remedies, and various coping strategies. Some, sadly, commit suicide; some become clinically depressed. Yet many soldier on, despite it all, calling out to God, believing the Bible the best they can. This often happens alone. A great deal of the pain of chronic illness is loneliness. Few understand the blight. You don't get better; you don't die. What is wrong with you? In fact, you may look healthy, although you feel like a living hell. Pick me ups don't work. Bucking up is impossible. You realize what is true for everyone, but which few ever realize: your life is not your own. Your plans are shot; your dreams have become nightmares...but you still must dream.

I know those who are chronically ill. Their stories resonate in my soul and are unforgettable. I lament for them and with them. I pray and fast for them. I take them to doctor visits. I rage at a seemingly empty heaven when nothing changes for the better. At the end of the angry day of vanity, I pray again. "Lord, where else can we go. You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:66).

Maybe, in the providence of God, this humble forum can give solace and camaraderie to the millions who fall between the cracks of American culture. Whose lives are not normal and are inexplicable. Those who cannot work; cannot go on vacations; cannot have normal families; cannot buck up and tough it out; cannot meet the expectations written into the fabric of contemporary culture; who feel stranded on an island of ineffable pain, but who cannot stop speaking out about their fate.

This is for the aliens in our midst and under our roofs and under our skins. This is a forum for those who bodies, "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139) have become their mortal enemies. And this is for their loved ones, those who anguish in impotence and frustration. Those who hate themselves for not being more patient, more Christlike when yet another dream or normality goes into the garbage heap.

This is for those who have despaired and have been unable to rest in despair, for who can rest there. Despair is, after all, giving up on God, who is Almighty and able to save.

I welcome you all to this experiment in creative suffering. You, the sisters and brother of Heman, the lamenting Psalmist who, very likely suffered from chronic illness. Hear his cry, then tell me of yours:

Psalm 88

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.
To the leader: according to Mahalath Leannoth.
A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.


  1. Hello Doug. As you know, this touches me personally, so I am glad to see this new site.

  2. I've just found you. Thank you for putting my prayers so eloquently into words.

  3. Hello, Doug. I found your blog yesterday and have been exploring. I do not suffer from chronic illness, but instead enjoy a life of constant pain. I say "enjoy", because God is my strength, and I understand what it is to have faith in the midst of suffering.

    I have celiac disease, which has all sorts of ramifications. It is controlled by diet, but for many years I have had all sorts of symptoms such as rashes, canker sores, geographic tongue, skin lesions or infections, anemia, bowel problems, migraines, joint pain, sensitivity to light and perfumes, and the list goes on. I have often suffered from debilitating fatigue. Now that I understand how to avoid the food that makes me sick (wheat, gluten, corn, soy, etc.) I feel somewhat better.

    God, in His wisdom, ordained that I should be in a car crash (Feb '07) that has left me with daily, unremitting shoulder and neck pain. Not so bad that I cannot function, but bad enough that I rarely have moments when I am unaware of pain. It is my constant companion.

    I fell and broke my arm in December. I'm still wearing a cast, which adds to my neck and shoulder pain.

    It is good for my soul to read this blog. Your writing resonates in me. I plan to read through it slowly, savouring the words of lament and praise to our Heavenly Father, who gives good gifts to His children. Pain is a good gift, because it makes us understand deep truths - we are weak; God is able; this world is temporary; heaven is eternal; we suffer a little; Jesus suffered a lot- and did that to redeem a people unto Himself.

    Blessings, dear brother. I look forward to getting to know you through your writing. Any chance I could get a copy of your book on apologetics for a review?