I’ve learned something:
Illness turns many people away from God. Suffering makes many question their faith.
However, these times of chaos and seemingly “ungodly” pain causes others to go the opposite direction, running towards God and embracing their faith with arms wide open.
Of course, there are those of you who are agnostics and atheists, but this blog post isn’t for you. I don’t judge you, but I can’t relate.
This post is for those of you who have seen a change in your faith or spirituality because of sickness or other tragedies in your life.
I’ll tell you in a nutshell how I feel, and you can take from it whatever grains of truth or morsels of wisdom you find meaningful or applicable to you.
I was born and raised Catholic but I wasn’t a “true” Christian, if you know what I mean. Well, yes, technically, Catholicism is a form of Christianity, so, on paper, I was Christian. But, despite going through baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, and attending mass each week, and even later working at a Catholic school, I was simply going through the motions, practicing rituals and traditions in the way I was taught, but not feeling necessarily close to God or fulfilled spiritually.
In fact, I first became truly interested in religion and theology in 2004-ish when I had Bell’s Palsy. I prayed and prayed that my face wouldn’t be stuck like that forever. I was basically bedridden and so I began to read a lot. I tried meditation. I read a book about Sylvia Brown “talking to angels.” I read up on Kabbalah, because, at the time, every celebrity in Hollywood was rocking a red Kabbalah bracelet. I read Lao Tzu and A New Earth. Though I still remained Catholic, I found myself praying more, exploring the history behind various religions, and slowly forming my own faith.
The Bell’s Palsy left but my thirst for spiritual growth never did. As years went on and I got new diagnoses on top of my Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (diagnoses that ranged from Celiac to Sjogrens, Lupus, and Chiari,) I found myself growing closer to God. I would thank Him each morning for waking me up, when I had a subconscious fear of dying. (For those of you who live with chronic health issues, you know what I mean. You don’t think about dying incessantly but, somewhere in the back of your mind, you realize the magnitude and seriousness of your illnesses and what they could mean for you long-term.) I found myself praying to God before and after my brain surgery, before and after my trip to the Mayo Clinic, and so on.
HOWEVER, my faith and my personal religion wasn’t fully formed through these private prayers but rather, through people. Being ill allows you to catch a glimpse into both the best and worst sides of humanity. You’ll encounter judgement, snark, ignorance, discrimination, insensitivity, and rudeness, but you’ll also encounter compassion, inspiration, hope, empathy, kindness, sympathy, patience, and love.
I caught a glimpse of this love — and of God — through the church I now attend, a United Methodist church called Crossroads. Sure, the fancy lighting, modern music, and energetic sermons are great, but the people are what made me want to join. I had pastors calling me after my brain surgery, before I ever even became a member of the church. I had a Crossroads staff member physically come visit me in the hospital when I was recovering, although I’d only met her once. I saw God not through a prayer I recited by memory in a rushed moment, but rather, through the actions of these people who were practical strangers. Even now, I find strength and support in weekly sharing at my Small Group through the church. It provides me a source of support both emotionally and mentally, even when I’m physically not doing so well.
Now — don’t get me wrong. I sometimes question why I am in the position that I’m in. Why would God give me talents, a genius-level IQ, brains, ambition, and creativity, but then saddle me with illness after illness, and hurdle after hurdle? In what world is that fair?
News flash: life isn’t fair. And I’ve learned, too, that it’s all about perspective. I choose to think that God did not necessarily cause suffering in my life, BUT, he is there to help me through it.
I choose to think that these hard times and the struggles I’ve been dealt serve a purpose. Maybe that purpose is to inspire or help others going through the same thing. Maybe that purpose is simply to remind me to find gratitude each day. Maybe that purpose was simply that God wanted to use these situations to draw me closer to him, and to focus on what truly matters in life.
I don’t know — I don’t know what the reason is why I am ill, or why anyone is sick … especially children, or other pure and benevolent souls. But do I believe that any of us are being somehow punished? No, I don’t think that for a second. That logic is flawed. If God (whatever your version of God may be,) hands out sicknesses or disabilities as some kind of punishment, why aren’t terrorists, or pedophiles, or rapists, animal abusers, or murderers all dying of terminal cancer? No, see, it just doesn’t make sense.
We are given what we can handle, and if the Universe has dealt us this card, it’s because we are strong enough to deal with it. It’s up to us, however, HOW we deal with it. The power to choose to be positive is within us. So is the power to choose negativity. I believe that the Law of Attraction is very real and that the promises of the book, The Secret, are similar to many promises we’ll find within the Holy Bible. We have to ask God for what we want, do good unto others, and expect the best … but not blame God when we don’t always get it.
Perhaps, we should ask not “why God did this to us” but rather, “how can I use what I’ve been given for the greater good?” Or, “how can I still make the most of my life?”
Those, to me, seem like better questions to ask. If we exude bitterness, guilt, negativity, shame, anger, or blame, what will come back to us? Certainly not fruitful blessings or much of anything positive. And that’s not the life God wants us to live. That’s not what the Universe has in store for us. We are meant to flourish, to thrive, and if we must endure pain during our time on this earth, surely we can reap some good for it. Many blessings await us. If not now, then after, when the fears of our subconscious come true. Only then will we realize the grand plan that’s been laid out for us. But until that day comes, I say that we do our best to live our best lives now. We should treat others the way we want to be treated, AND TREAT OURSELVES THAT WAY, TOO. When people are advised to “be good people,” through dogma, religion, or culture, they’re often never advised to also be good to themselves. We are told to love others, but shouldn’t we learn to love ourselves, too? After all, our lives are God’s greatest gift to us. We only get one life here on earth, and we should live it to the fullest, knowing that any little ripple of goodness or kindness or love that we can exude towards others will come back to us. But we can’t be open to receive that love if we don’t first love ourselves and allow God to love us, too. And we are worthy of and deserving of that love, even with flaws or sicknesses or physical limitations. If no one in this world ever loves us, we should rest assured that God loves us, and that YOU should love YOU, too.
Lastly, on the topic of religion itself, I don’t really like to define mine. I would say that I’m now a Catholic/Methodist hybrid, and identify as a Christian, but I also love reading works of Taoism and Buddhism. I have an open mind and am not judgmental. I think most religions are way more alike than different, and I believe that only God can judge me. That said, just to clarify — just because I enjoy reading works of Lao Tzu and Buddha and agree with some of their teachings, I don’t worship any other god but God/the Holy Trinity. What else do I believe? I believe that God and the Universe are one in the same. The Law of Attraction, Karma, Prayer, Meditation, … all different words for nearly identical ideas, at least in my mind. I think that gratitude, love, and forgiveness are the keystones of what both religion and life itself are about. And I’ve gotta say, I love Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and the new perspectives that it and other books or television shows like it offer. I’m open to learning and always striving to further fill my spirit and feed my soul. So if that makes me a “bad Christian,” so be it. The hypocrites who would call me such aren’t doing themselves any favor in my eyes. As I said, I think that judging others is a flaw worse than being ill. I’d wonder what God would say about their behavior.
So, that said, if you see a Bible verse, re-post from Joel Osteen, quote from Buddha, or a random piece of scripture on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page, please do not be offended. I won’t judge you if you’re Presbyterian or Jewish or Muslim or Wiccan or Athiest or WHATEVER. I just ask that you don’t judge me, either. That said … we all cope with our illnesses differently, and in my times of trial and tribulation, I turn to my God and cope in my way. My faith has certainly helped me get to a much, much better place in regards to living with chronic illness. I daresay that I would be lost without it. I won’t post a blog entry like this one again, because I don’t think that’s necessarily what this blog is about, and this may not be the right outlet, at least not on a regular basis. But, I did think that it was important to formally address on here at least once, and I hope that you don’t mind my sharing this.
I’d love to hear your stories of how faith or spirituality has helped you cope with chronic illnesses, or, if on the flip side, your health problems have pulled you away from a life that includes faith or religion. No hate, no judgment. This is a place of love and kindness — so feel free to share! We’re all on this journey together.
PS: If you like inspiring quotes and/or scripture, check out my Instagram page. (Which is also laden with fitness posts, photos of my pets, selfies, and other obnoxious pics! hehe.)