Choosing an Outward Focus in the Face of Physical Suffering
by GRACE MCCONNAUGHEY
“Am I useless?”
“Will pain be my companion for life?”
“Will I ever be able to live a normal life?”
“Can I be a witness for Jesus with this constant inability to go anywhere and do anything?”
So many tumbling questions, so much opportunity for discouragement.
When we are dealt a difficult hand in any area of life, we must not settle for a “misery mindset.” The Lord brought me to this reality fairly early on in my season with chronic illness, and I have been so grateful for that.
As a little back story, I was hospitalized when I was 12 years old with a completely unknown confuse-all-the-doctors medical anomaly. When I was 18 years old, I had a heart condition that was deemed life-threatening. My life was drastically affected because of this, and most typical “teenage” things were stripped away — driving, job, college, social life, etc. The doctors even told me not to laugh or get excited as it could overtax my heart. It was a difficult season, and I remember feeling like it was utterly ridiculous that the doctors were trying to put regulations on my laughter. After all, isn’t laughter “good like a medicine”? (Prov. 17:22).
I wasn’t exceptionally healthy through the next few years, but overall life returned to fairly normal. It was in 2012 that things took a turn and my health plummeted again. I went downhill so badly that by the beginning of 2013, my doctors weren’t sure I would live through the end of the year. (Spoiler: I did!)
As I continue to walk this path, physical pain has become normal, surgery happens every few years, and experimental attempts to treat symptoms as they occur is the main course of action.
From Misery to Ministry
When my health was first declining, I didn’t know if these painful issues would pass quickly or be long term. But that became less and less important as I grew in my understanding of just how long-term Jesus’ faithfulness truly is.
In the midst of it all, there has certainly been consistent bait for depression, anxiety, and wallowing in misery — but that is never the end of the story when Jesus is involved!
Through the strength of Jesus — especially in our weakness and trials — we can be brought from misery to ministry. Yes, there are many opportunities to be down in the dumps, but there are equally as many opportunities to turn away from that misery and make it a ministry — to let difficulty, pain, and trauma drive us to our Savior. Every moment we have a choice to take our eyes off ourselves and our situations and turn outward.
When we arrive at the end of our own strength it is not defeat, but the start of tapping in to God’s boundless resources. It is when we are weak that we are strong in God.
– Brother Yun
My pain and trials are a chance to die to myself daily, to surrender (even my good and reasonable desires), to take up my cross, and follow Him. And as I follow Him, I want to see how joyful my dependence upon Christ for my every need can be. Not in a fake, overly-cheerful, “put on” sort of way. But in a “we should live life to His fullest” sort of way — an “in His presence is fullness of joy” sort of way. (See Psalm 16:11, emphasis added.) This victorious way leads to living with eyes that see His grace and joy wherever we are.
Ultimately, my life is not my own, and my over-arching desire for my life is to glorify Him and tell of His goodness every day with every aspect of my being. I’m thankful that He goes before me and that He lights my path. (See Deuteronomy 31:8.) I’m thankful that He knows best and that He works all things for good. (See Romans 8:28.)
Practical Ways to Increase
Whether you are facing health challenges or are suffering in another way, there is always opportunity to turn outward and cultivate a joy-filled focus in serving others. Here are some practicals I’ve implemented in my life.
Always Be Ready
Have a battle plan for when the attacks of discouragement and lies come. Surround yourself in truth. I have verses and specific truths written out in easy-to-access places so that I can easily put my mind on things above even when the battle is most intense. I often have to speak truth to myself out loud — when the tears are flowing, while I’m curled up in pain, when I’m overwhelmed. If the lies are coming hard and fast, I have a few people I can turn to who will text or call if I need truth spoken to me. I know that I need to have truth surrounding me — all day, every day. And it’s a choice I have to make in order to be prepared to defeat the lies.
Ask Soul-Searching Questions.
There are questions I ask myself throughout my day and have posted in various places around my house:
- Grace, is Jesus enough? Right now, in this moment, is He enough for you?
- Are you taking every thought captive?
- How can you take this situation, circumstance, moment, hour, day, pain, issue, or __________ and surrender it to God? How can you know Him more because of this?
- Are you falling on Him in your weakness? Or are you merely … falling?
- Are your circumstances dictating your faith and trust in God? Or is His unfailing faithfulness your standard?
- Are you counting it all joy when you fall into various trials?
Find Ways to Pour Out to Others:
Write letters to others who need encouragement.
- Randomly send little “out-of-the-blue” gifts to people — especially someone you know who may specifically be going through a hard time. (Amazon shopping lists are great for making this simple!)
- Make people laugh. It brings such life to my own heart and makes other people’s days brighter to have laughter added into it.
- Have a prayer list and pray specifically. Text people throughout the week and ask how they’re doing and how you can be praying.
Perhaps these things sound overly simple, or perhaps the pursuit of joy in the midst of trials can sound cliché, but I think it’s doable and even necessary. The Bible says, “…in everything give thanks,” (1 Thes. 5:18) and, “…rejoice in the Lord always,” (Phil. 4:4). And if the Bible commands it — it can be done!
It doesn’t mean I don’t cry. It doesn’t mean I smile and laugh at every moment. It means that if I hit the rumble strip, I correct and don’t let my car keep going off the road. It means if I hit a pothole, I take the necessary precautions to not hit that pothole again. It means my soul-position must be one of faith, trust, and humility before the King of kings — knowing that I have nothing and He is everything. He is enough. He is my strength … because I certainly have none. He has turned my misery to ministry, and I want to tell of His goodness.
Let us never gloss over the honor of bearing the name of Christ in this world, even while walking through painful trials!