“You were mad at the world,” she told me.
These words came from a dear friend of mine who had a front-row seat to my illness when I was 20 years old. My colon had spontaneously ruptured (we now know due to Vascular EDS), suddenly interrupting my college life and replacing it with months of surgeries, hospitalizations and scary unknowns.
I agreed with my friend.
Denial and Despondency
I was mad at nurses, doctors, my family, my friends (whose lives carried on as normal), anyone who dared to cross the threshold of my hospital room. Few escaped my wrath – maybe the aunt who rubbed my back with scented lotion, or the friends who drove 2 hours to sing to me, or those who distracted me with board games, or others who were lucky enough to catch me sleeping.
But certainly not my mom, who was my constant companion, trapped as a co-prisoner in the confines of the hospital. Or the nurse who suggested I give myself a sponge bath and wash my own hair to take control of something – how dare she?!? Or my sweet friend who learned how to change my colostomy bag just in case and came for a hospital slumber party, as my IV pump alarm beeped all night log, resulting in probably the worst night of sleep she’d had at that point in her life.
I was in denial that “this is my life” and lived sort of an out-of-body experience for the duration of the eight-month illness. Yes, there were moments of levity and hope, but I was pretty determined to hold on to my bad attitude until my circumstances changed. Add an unhealthy dose of despondency and depression, and I was a real peach to be around.
Those who loved me weren’t asking me to deny my circumstances or not to grieve – they were simply encouraging me to choose life anyway. I was still here.
Acceptance and Abiding
You see, I couldn’t accept what was happening to me. I could not fathom how a “good Christian girl” like me could be afflicted with such pain. I wrestled hard and lost – time, peace, growth, the comforting presence of God and others in my affliction.
It wasn’t until months later – when I was well into my recovery – that I came to terms with that season of life. Even then, when my body got better, my mind and spirit were still lagging. I was living in the in between of being the “sick girl” and the “miracle girl.”
In Elisabeth Elliot’s book Suffering is Never for Nothing, she writes, “Acceptance, I believe, is the key to peace in this business of suffering…the key to acceptance: the fact that it’s never for nothing.”
Twenty years later, after my first health crisis, I couldn’t agree more. With a named diagnosis, it was now something that I had to receive as my new reality. I could choose to live believing that the One who allowed it is good or deny that this, in fact, could bring God glory. Not the “everything-happens-for-a-reason” platitude (please don’t say this to someone in crisis!), but a “God-loves-me-10,000-times-more” peace in the middle of the storm.
It was my choice and the stakes were high. But I’m not alone. God, in His goodness, records in His Word the steps of those who suffered greatly. The Bible outlines their laments, their questions, their struggles, their conclusions.
Did Joseph trust that God could use his brothers’ schemes to sell him into enslavement for good?
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. Genesis 5:20a
Did Job, even among his questions, receive God’s adversity and blessing with acceptance?
“Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10b
Did Jesus ask for a different path than the cross to redeem His people, accepting the will of His Father as the only way?
…“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. Luke 22:42-43
Accept is a Verb
Acceptance is an act of the will, mind and spirit, while resignation to our circumstances is passive. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary to endure suffering and – dare I say – grow through it? Yes.Receiving what is given is an act of faith, opening our clenched fists to God’s sovereign plans. Click To Tweet
Our pastor often quotes, “Where you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” (Based on a quote from Charles Spurgeon and made popular by singer-songwriter Babbie Mason.)
We know in this world we will have trouble – Jesus tells us it’s so (John 16:33). We cannot dutifully check boxes to avoid all suffering. But there are some things we can do to ease the struggle.
Here are four things I’ve learned to turn from denial to acceptance, from despondency to abiding.
- Grieve, but continue to say “yes” to life. It often feels like time stands still in the midst of a crisis. But there are small things we can do to break through the fog. My friend and fellow VEDS survivor Heather Dixon shares Jill Savage’s 7 Practical Ways to Choose Life Every Day. (And sometimes in suffering this means taking a shower, going for a walk, or talking to a friend.)
- Abide in Jesus. John 15:5 says apart from Him, we can do nothing. Even suffer well. Instead of wrestling, rest. Recognize the gift of His presence, an understanding Savior who knows the agony of rejection and physical suffering.
- Recognize the spiritual battles taking place that you don’t see. A wise friend recently reminded me that God is gracious to not let us see the war taking place in the heavenly realms. We live in a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28), and we can be assured that God is fighting for us.
- Trust that God is not only good, but He is good to you. I’m spending my life seeking out God’s goodness in the darkest places. And I’ve concluded if He sent His Son Jesus to die for my sins to reconcile me with Himself for eternity, then He is surely trustworthy with the hardest days of my life. Over and over again, I repeat how He’s been good to me. Offering a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15) in the midst of trials are some of the sweetest moments I’ve encountered with the Savior.