In my first semester of university, I developed a severe mental illness that impared my living and threatened my future. I had to withdraw from university, start medication, and, later, undergo therapy.
It was my worst nightmare. I went from top of the class to not even being able to be in the class. Life had not turned out as I’d hoped, and I was left with an unshakable spiritual question: What had just happened? Did I do something wrong? Was God punishing me? Worse yet, could He be trusted?
I took the easy route: I blamed myself, unwilling to grapple with the implications of my illness for my faith and Who I thought God was. To think of God as “irresponsible” was taboo to my Sunday School faith. I kept searching for something I did wrong, and I settled on the fact that I studied too hard in university and told myself I triggered my illness by not resting my mind enough.
I was obsessed about what God was trying to teach me through suffering. I comforted myself that there were many truths to learn through suffering well.
So I worked really hard. I finished university, got a job, and developed my confidence enough to start dating my first boyfriend, who became my husband. God did teach me many things through the process of healing, but still I had this idea of Him as a firm parent who tolerated me.
I was physically, mentally, and emotionally well. But I believe it is possible to be such and not be truly well – spiritually well.
God had blessed me with medication that worked, joy in my job, and love in my relationships, but still the chasm between us remained. There was unspoken resentment that God had not held up His side of “the bargain” with the onset of my illness and by not healing me miraculously in the aftermath. All this time, I sang of his deep love for me in church, but deep down I had doubts.
Fast forward to my husband and I planning for a family. My doctor at the time recommended I go off my medication because she believed that my illness was a one-time thing, not chronic, since I had rebounded so well. Unfortunately, my illness is chronic: I relapsed and spent three months in the hospital.
In that hospital room, I felt so alone, even though my husband was a rock for me and people visited. Not only had God failed me again, but my doctor had too. I settled for “the lesson” that we live in a broken world with people who make mistakes.
I healed from my relapse, and this time worked even harder to get well. I was so frustrated with being sick and weak when it was not my fault. When I got “well” again, I clung to my health–grateful, yes, but unwilling to be separated from it again. My health became all important to me.
When we were ready to try again for a family, I discovered that my medication was causing a hormone imbalance that was stopping my periods. I would have to experiment with different side medications to lower the hormone. God was leading us to a place where I had to trust Him with my health again.
Again the chasm yawned. I turned to the book of Job in the Bible, a book I highly recommend. There I encountered the story of God telling Satan about Job, who was a pleasure to Him. Satan then tells God that Job loved Him only for the things God gave him: his health, his riches, his family. Satan asks for God’s permission to strike Job, and God allows it. Then Job’s friends argue with Job about why he was struck down.
Some say Job did something wrong.
Some say God was trying to discipline and teach him.
Some say that everyone and everything in the world is broken, but God is not.
Then God shows up and His glory is so great that Job has nothing to say, but praise Him.
Here I see a truth I missed: Satan is my striker, not God. God allows it so that I will love God for Who He is, in Himself.
All these years, God has allowed illness and pain in my life for many reasons, some I’ll never know. Yes, to teach me. Yes, to show naive me that the world is a broken place and that Satan is evil. But He wants so much more than “lessons.” He wants a love relationship.
God wants me to love Him for Him, me for me. Not for what I bring to the table, not what He brings to the table. Not His healing, not His wisdom, not His safety. But for the Awesome Beauty of Who He is.
To be truly well is to trust God and to trust that His love, free and without conditions, is the deepest joy we’ll ever need and want. God, in His cosmic wisdom, will never withhold something that is good for us, and the Greatest Good Thing is Himself. He will not share our hearts with lesser loves that consume us as we cling to them. His love frees us and gives us life.
Taste and see that the LORD is good…Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need…those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing. – Psalm 34: 8-10
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