In the not-too-distant past, I was enslaved by hypochondria. For anyone who’s suffered with it, you know slavery is the appropriate term. Every day I woke up to a shadow of dread, my thoughts consumed with the multitude of diseases surely eating my life away minute by minute.
On the bad days I was obsessed with sudden killers (heart attacks, blood clots, etc.). The so-called good days involved subtler enemies like cancer or lupus. I spent hours on the internet researching symptoms, which of course led me to health problems I hadn’t yet imagined.
Fear gripped me so tightly I could barely bring myself to speak to my children or perform basic household duties. I didn’t want to make plans for more than a few days in advance, because I was certain I wouldn’t be around to see them come to fruition. And all because of nothing more than a persistent headache or a twinge of joint pain.
I recognized my problem and felt ashamed. I realized my fears were rooted in something deeper, and I could only find freedom if I dug deep enough to uncover the malignant source. I sought counseling from someone at my church, and that was the beginning of a long journey to healing I haven’t yet completed.
During the beginning stages of recovery, I saw one of my worst fears play out in the life of my good friend. A wife and mother of two, beautiful and vibrant in her early 30s, she was suddenly diagnosed with lymphoma. Not just early stage, we-caught-it-in-plenty-of-time lymphoma. This was stage 4, spread throughout her body.
When she called to give me the news, I burst into tears. She comforted me. While I begged God to spare her life and asked him why? why? why?, she prayed for opportunities to glorify God and looked forward to her chemo treatments because she knew that sitting in a chair for several hours would give her lots of time to tell other cancer patients about Jesus.
I marveled at her strength, and also cringed at it, because the light of her faith illuminated the ugly weakness of my own. I remember talking to my mother about it. “I don’t understand how she can be so at peace with this,” I said. “If it ever happened to me, I don’t think I’d survive the fear, let alone the cancer. How can you prepare yourself for something like that?”
My mom’s response sounded simple, but I’m beginning to realize how profound it really was. “You can’t store up faith. God gives us what we need when we need it. His grace is the reason she’s so strong.”
Our small group has been working through John Piper’s study Battling Unbelief, which is all about our faith in God’s grace and its implications in our lives as His children. In spite of the less than exciting presentation (John Piper using overheads during a seminar), the content is fantastic. In a recent lesson, he repeated my mother’s words almost verbatim. This is how he explained it:
Matthew 6:34 says, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Put those verses together, and what do you have?
According to Piper, it’s an equation. If your problems today are four times more than what you can handle, God’s grace is going to give you at least four times more strength, sanity, courage, etc. than you have…today.
In other words, when your newly adopted child suddenly hates you (again) and goes back to loving every stranger she meets, and the anger and hurt is at a raging boil that makes you want to scream and cry and hit something all at once, and all you can think about is how easy and natural it was to have a healthy, loving relationship with your biological kids…that’s not the time to think about the months and years ahead and wonder how things will ever change or question whether or not you’re going to survive.
When it’s 11:00 on Friday morning and your inbox is still refusing to ding with that long-awaited message, when the weight of waiting is suffocating and you can’t remember what life was like when you didn’t have to live every day in limbo, and your hope for a happy ending is fading with each minute that ticks past a foreign country’s office hours…that’s not the time to wonder how you’re going to make it to Monday, or how you’ll survive if that email never comes.
You’re at the end of your rope, and tomorrow promises more of the same. So take a breath and remember this: There will be a new rope tomorrow. Each day dawns with its own lifeline.
My friend is still with us, and by God’s amazing grace she’s now cancer-free and still passionate about sharing Jesus.
My hypochondria is no longer a daily torment, but rather an enemy I’ve learned how to fight. Our skirmishes are still more frequent than I’d like, but by God’s grace I’m becoming skilled in battle.
Some days my daughter won’t look me in the eye and spends all her energy wooing strangers or finding ways to be destructive, and I spend all my energy trying not to quit. But when she woke up sick and coughing early this morning, by God’s grace I found the strength to rise from bed and comfort her, this child for whom love is still a mystery.
To God be the glory. Great things He has done.
Great things He will do again.