Coping, Acceptance, Recovery, and New Purpose
Every person throughout history has had to cope with life. Whether that life is easy or hard, it is never perfect. Contending with life can get exponentially harder when you factor in unending physical challenges, especially invisible disabilities or unpredictable conditions.
Let’s define coping with physical challenges by adapting the dictionary meaning:
1) to struggle or deal with the problems with some degree of success;
2)to face and deal with responsibilities, problems, or difficulties in a calm or adequate manner.
Cooperation with your body helps. What can you do? What can you not do? How can you adapt what needs to be done to your new abilities?
Answering these questions aid you in dealing with your new life in a calm, adequate, and somewhat successful manner.
Coping and Acceptance
Coping does not equal acceptance! You can cope without truly accepting. I did for many years. I cooperated with my body because it didn’t hurt as much. Maybe because it took so many years to diagnose my problems, I don’t know. But, I was always looking for the next doctor to find a way to take it away, or for God to heal it. I didn’t like my life this way (although there was fun along the way) and I wanted it to change.
Acceptance takes coping a step further. How in the world can we accept a life radically different than what we had — or what we had planned? We have to admit and acknowledge our losses - that life is different for the remainder of our lives. (This assumes that you’ve explored any possibilities of improvement or change.) Give yourself permission to accept your new life.
CRITICAL to remember: Being able to cope well does not equal acceptance of major losses!
Coping and Recovery
Do you - or others - say, “All I have to do is recover?” Jerry Sittser proposed an answer that really spoke to me, helping me to come to a fuller acceptance. He had to recover after a drunk driver caused the deaths of three family members. He concluded: “. . . I believe that “recovery” from such loss is an unrealistic and even harmful expectation, if by recovery we mean resuming the way we lived and felt prior to the loss. Instead, the book [A Grace Disguised] is intended to show how it is possible to live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it.”
Redefining recovery puts one well on the way to finding new purpose, and that is a large part of acceptance which makes coping with your losses easier.
Coping and Finding New Purpose
A starting place is to examine your previous life. What did you do? Did you enjoy it? Can it be adapted to your new capabilities? What were your hobbies and interests? Maybe they were endeavors you never had time for, but now you do. Maybe you have to find a completely new purpose. But always remember: you are important just because you’re you. Look around for the positive results that come from your being alive.
Object Lesson: Ability to Cope Never Fully Learned
Today it seems a joke that I’m writing a page about coping. I had “have-to” shopping still to do long after I had drained my strength. I could tell my strength had departed by the difficulty of coping with other shoppers. When it hurts to move my muscles, I get very grouchy and touchy. Toward the end, my right leg refused to work. So, how did I cope? By getting upset when things didn’t go exactly as I wanted when I wanted. Not being nice to strangers. Even by griping at my very loving husband. An object lesson showing that coping may be learned but can be hard to practice!
Missing out When You Have a Chronic Illness (Part 1)
Our note: Below, find parts 1 and 2 dealing with the painful subject of how to cope when you can’t do what others do. See coping from a Christian angle. This article is written by Ally, of Chronically Constant, a teenager with serious chronic illnesses.
Last week a lot of the students in my youth group went to New York City on a service trip. They got to minister to the homeless and share the gospel with people who need Jesus. I, on the other hand, spent most of my week in bed. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. My Chronic illnesses frequently cause me to miss out on things my healthy peers are doing. Honestly, missing out on so many things is the absolute HARDEST part of my chronic illness. Everyone around me seems so energetic and active, while I often feel like I am not able to do much at all. I’m sure that everyone living with chronic pain and/or chronic illness has felt like this at least once. I know firsthand how difficult and saddening it is to miss out due to my illnesses, but as a Christian I don’t have to stay in the sadness and heartache. Neither do you. Keep reading and join with me in exploring how God calls us to think about and react to missing out.
Run from jealousy
It is natural to feel sad when we miss out. It is also natural to desire to be able to do things that others are doing. God doesn’t call us to stop feeling anything, but to follow Him (and not our emotions) with the strength that He gives us. The danger arises when our natural grief escalates into sinful envy. When we think of jealousy, we usually think of coveting other peoples’ money, social status, or appearance. But as chronically ill people, our jealousy can be directed toward other peoples’ health. Again, it is normal to want to be healthy. That is not a sin. However, it becomes a sin when we idolize health and grow resentful toward those who are healthier than us.
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The great news is that when we repent of this sin and ask for God’s forgiveness, He forgives us 100%. Not only does He forgive us, but He even gives us the strength to resist that sin in the future, and the ability to put on love and gratitude instead. So, before we can do any of the following things, we must humbly repent of our jealousy.
Rest in contentment
Contentment is not something that comes easily to us. We live each day in pain and with symptoms we wouldn’t have chosen. We desire to be able to do things that others are doing. We want to serve God in ways that other people are serving Him. So how can we be content in a situation we would prefer to escape? In Philippians 4:11 Paul says this about contentment: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:” Paul did not make this statement because all he had ever experienced was easy. It would be no problem being content all of the time if our lives were all sunshine and rainbows. Paul’s life was far from that. In fact, he was in a horrible situation while he penned those very words. He was locked up in a prison for the sake of the gospel. He too was “missing out” on things others were doing and ministry opportunities because he was in chains.
So how can we who are suffering and missing out learn to be content in whatever we are going through? The answer is looking at what we have through Christ instead of focusing on what we wish was different in our lives. Any time we become discontent, we can trace it back to failing to remember what God has done for us. When we forget what He has done for us, we aren’t able to be content because we don’t realize how much we already have. Here are just a few of the things God has done for us:
- He has made us alive. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
- He has adopted us (Ephesians 1:4-5)
- He has forgiven all of our sins (Colossians 2:13)
- He has made us heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:7)
- He became sin for us so we could become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21)
He did all of this for us when we were enemies of Him (Romans 5:10), spiritually dead, (Ephesians 2:1) and completely sinful (Romans 3:23)! Titus 3:5 tells us that all of this was done for us “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.“
As we focus on the gospel we can be more than content because we can clearly see how undeserving we are as well as how abundantly Jesus satisfies us. He has given us far more than we deserve through His death for us! When we set our minds on that truth, our discontentment shrivels and we humbly realize that we don’t need to be in a different situation to be content. That is what is so amazing about true contentment. It doesn’t require perfect circumstances (or even okay ones) to flourish. Contentment can grow in the darkest places because its roots are based on truths that are constant and unchanging.
We can also be encouraged in contentment by recognizing that God is just as faithful today as He was when He endured the cross. He gives us so many reasons to be content, past and present. Hebrews 13:5 instructs believers to: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Through this verse, God reveals to us that we can be content with any situation because Jesus is with us and will never forsake us. Even if we are missing out on other things, we can never miss out on Him! He is faithfully by our sides no matter what.
Refocus on what you can do
By dwelling on what we are missing out on, we actually end up missing out on what is right in front of us. But when we are resting in contentment that is founded on the gospel, we begin to notice all the things we are still able to do. I’ll admit it isn’t always easy to see the things we can do, even if they’re right under our noses. It takes intentionality and strength from God to do it. It’s a lot easier to notice our limitations, but when we discover the seemingly hidden or unimportant things we can do and do them to God’s glory we can have true joy!
It’s kinda like a scavenger hunt. It takes time to notice the things we are still able to do, but once we uncover them we get to experience the rewards of gratitude and God-given purpose! Here are a few examples of little things we can do:
- We may not be able to minister to needy people in New York, but we can still encourage people in our local churches.
- We may not be able to make a difference in hundreds of people’s lives, but we can be faithful with the people God has already placed in our lives.
- We may not be able to be super active or even moderately so, but we have abundant opportunities to dig into God’s word when we are stuck in bed.
The gospel fuels gratitude and shifts our perspective from what we are missing out on to what we have the ability to do (whatever that may be). Let’s be intentional about thanking Jesus for the things we are able to do, and faithfully doing them for His glory!
Why don’t you do a mini scavenger hunt of your own? You might just be surprised with the list you come up with. You can even write it down and refer to it in the future when you feel like you are missing out. You may also find this post about living for God when you are chronically ill encouraging.
In my last post, “Missing out When You Have a Chronic Illness (Part 1)“, I wrote about how hard it is to miss out on so many things as a chronically ill person. I talked about how important it is to run from jealousy, rest in contentment, and refocus on what we are still able to do! Here is part 2 which continues to explore how God calls us to think about and react to missing out.
1. Realize that missing out can be an opportunity
It’s quite a challenge to wrap our minds around this truth! How on earth can missing out become an opportunity? Let me give you an example from scripture of what I am talking about. In Galatians 4:13-14, Paul is reminding the Galatian church of how he came to share the gospel with them. He says this: “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” While Scripture doesn’t tell us what illness Paul contracted, it does tell us that God used it to change Paul’s plans and lead him to an opportunity to plant a church in Galatia. This passage not only teaches us about God and how He works, but it also gives us an example to follow. We can learn a lot from Paul’s response to his untimely sickness. He could have just viewed his illness as a temporary inconvenience and hindrance to his work. He could have focused on recovering in order to resume his interrupted work as quickly as possible. But instead he chose to see it as an opportunity to share Jesus with people who wouldn’t otherwise have heard the gospel message. He didn’t see it as a detour, but as part of the road he was called to traverse.
I love this quote from chronic illness blogger Emily Lofgren. “Being home with debilitating pain isn’t keeping me from my life. It is where God has my life right now, even if it isn’t pleasant or what I would have chosen.” Our suffering does not indicate that our lives have been derailed from the track we were supposed to be on. Even though the trials we go through are steep and winding, they are still part of the track, and we are continually making headway toward our destination!
God can still use us and grow us even in our weakness and missing out. His ability to produce fruit in us is in no way inhibited by our lack of involvement in certain activities and events. That truth gets me so excited! I can serve God and love others even from the confines of my bedroom! In this instance, because I stayed home and didn’t join my youth group on the service trip, I was able to pray longer and harder than I would have been able to had I gone along. If you need help discovering ways you can live for God you can check out my article about living for God when you have a chronic illness.
Isn’t it incredible how our God can take painful circumstances and bring about unexpected good!
2. Rejoice with those who rejoice
This is a really difficult step to put into practice. In order to do it you must have begun putting the previous steps into action. Without putting off jealousy it is impossible to celebrate the joy of others. Without contentment and gratitude there is no way we can rejoice in what other people have. In Romans 12:15 God commands us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Yes this command is a difficult one to obey, but as with every command of God, the Holy Spirit will give us the power to carry it out (whole-heartedly). Those of us in the chronic illness community are familiar with this verse, but we often focus almost exclusively on the second half. We want people to show us compassion and sympathy (and God does call the body of Christ to do that) but we often miss the first half of the verse. Notice that the command to rejoice with others is not contingent upon their weeping with us. We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control our actions and choose to follow God’s commands.
The only way we can truly rejoice and be happy for what others have and what others are able to do is by redirecting our focus from ourselves. We must learn to cultivate the same selfless love Jesus extends to us and give it to others. And as Philippians 2:4 says, “let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.“ Notice how all of this is fueled by gratitude for the gospel! That is why it is so important to preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis.
In the last few months I have noticed how much I actually enjoy watching other people have a great time. I love to see my friends and family smiling and having fun. It brings me joy, but I can only experience that when I am not being self-focused, bitter, and miserable about missing out. I have learned that my own sinful heart prefers to focus on myself (pride) and on how others are failing to meet my needs instead finding enjoyment in the happiness of others. It is a choice to sit and mope about what we can’t do. We don’t have to make ourselves miserable.
It really is freeing to be able to rejoice in the joy of others. I say this in no way to minimize the pain. I know how real the hurt, loneliness, and discouragement is. But I don’t want myself or anybody to stay there in the sadness and misery when we can have joy by focusing on Christ and others.
3. Reach out to others who are missing out too
The final point I want to make is this. Missing out gives you the ability to reach out to other people who are also missing out for various reasons. Many times our frustration and sadness over all the things we miss out on can blind us from noticing the same pain in others. (As I write this I am realizing how much all of this boils down to my self-absorbed pride. Praise Jesus for His patience and mercy!) We of all people should be the ones to show compassion because we have received God’s comfort in our weakness, sadness, and need. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 conveys this truth so beautifully. It says this: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
God never intended for our pain to send us into lock-down mode. Our suffering should not be a hindrance to ministry, but a springboard for serving others. Our pain should not blind us from the wounds of others, but help us see them more clearly. Looking past our own hurts in order to reach out to others is a challenge, but it’s so worth it! And who knows, maybe you’ll make some new friends along the way. I pray that God will give us all the ability to notice the opportunities we still have, the grace to be content, and the strength to reach out to others as we deal with the difficulties of missing out.