It is really difficult to explain a chronic illness to someone. Those of you reading this who have a chronic illness know what I’m talking about. There are fancy terms, confusing prescription names, and this sense that even after explaining everything you still are not able to fully convey the depths of your illness.
I was diagnosed with epilepsy my sophomore year of high school. I played a collegiate sport until my epilepsy and the anxiety from my medications made it impossible for me to continue. I even took a semester off from college because I was afraid to go back. I later was diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder, as well as a rare form of non-epileptic seizures triggered by stress. It was during this period of loneliness and extensive diagnoses, that I sought God.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, this was not the kind of seeking that is described in the Bible— one full of love and desire. I was furious with God. I’m talking Jacob-wrestling-the-Spirit-of-the-Lord (Genesis 32) mad. I had followed the guidelines God had set out for me. But yet I was the one who had to be sidelined? How does that make sense? These are the questions I regularly hurled at God.
But God listened and let me vent. He is good that way; He lets us feel. Once I was done, He spoke to me in an unexpected way. I recently had begun writing down words I didn’t know in a journal. It was an exercise one of my English professors had taught me to build vocabulary. So, during my semester off, I finally began looking up the definitions to these words—goodness knows I had the free time. The first word in my journal: capitulate.
The definition I found was this: “Capitulate- verb, to surrender.”
In that moment I realized so much of my time and energy had been spent on trying to stay in control. But when a doctor says, “I don’t know if you will ever drive again,” there is no room left for control. When I am in control, failure and frustration are inevitable. Surrendering control is not easy. There were still days I was frustrated with God. Some of you might wonder, “How can you love a God that makes you so annoyed?” The answer is simple: because God, the King of all things, the Great Comforter, and Savior to the World…He and I are in a relationship. And as most of you know, relationships that are meaningful take work. God’s intervention through a dictionary helped me realize that my control issues were hindering our relationship, and by doing so, getting in the way of His purpose. Which, it turns out, is pretty amazing.
Things got better for me. I started looking for ways to be a light and cling to my identity in Christ instead of as an athlete, Christian, or straight-A student. I was able to drive after months of having to bum rides. I graduated. I have a job where I drive all the time. I’m even taking graduate classes.
As I said, things got better…but they don’t always. I still have epilepsy, and tomorrow I might have a seizure and be back at square one. But God has shown me that there is always a purpose to suffering, and if we allow it to that suffering can bring us closer to God. My testimony isn’t about God curing my epilepsy or alleviating a physical ailment. It’s about God loving me when I’m at my worst and forgiving me and teaching me when I don’t deserve it. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Capernaum (Luke 5:17-26), He forgave the man’s sins first. God cares so much more about our relationship with Him than our ability to perform physically on Earth.
If you have a chronic illness, praying a certain prayer won’t necessarily guarantee things will get better. But when you allow God to enter into your struggles, you begin to see how He is working in and around you even in that struggle. Capitulating to God means waiting, it means depending on others…but it also means peace. I hope my story leaves you filled with His peace today.
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