In part one of this two-part series, I wrote about how we shouldn’t devalue ourselves because our body is breaking down. We are more than our bodies. And we spent a little time talking about taking care of the emotional and mental aspects of who we are. In this post, I want to write about the connection between suffering chronic pain and our spirituality.
To even speak about “spirituality” implies the belief that we are not just a body. We have something deep inside of us that yearns for spiritual things, that yearns for God. No doubt, there is mass confusion out there about what it means to be spiritual. Some claim spirituality without any real concern for the divine. But if we are really spiritual beings, then we are made by an even greater spiritual being.
If we are spirit and not just body, then presumably there is spiritual health and not just physical health. When chronic illness enters the picture, who we are spiritually is revealed. What I mean is that being sick doesn’t make you more spiritual. Being well doesn’t either. Adversity reveals character and our character is closely related to our spiritual health. A person who gets sick might draw closer to God, but that was because of who that person was already. Another person with the same circumstance may become hardened toward God, blaming Him for his or her struggle.
That’s not to say that there cannot be significant spiritual change triggered by physical adversity. It may be that your illness brings out some things in you that you realize are not healthy and your response is to repent and grow to become a better person. But that process begins with a heart that is predisposed toward improving spiritually in their relationship God. I would still argue that chronic illness reveals who you are more than makes you who you are.
God can use your illness to create deeper spirituality in you, but it comes from a willingness on your part to be shaped. Without spiritual health we will waste our greatest opportunities to grow as a person. I will go as far to say that your illness can be of no benefit to you, if you do not seek to grow from it spiritually. If we were only a body, a purely physical being, then the body and its functionality would be all that mattered. But you are so much more than that!
One of my go-to passages is Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Glory in our sufferings? You can only do that if you believe that your sufferings can produce something other than the pain and disability you experience. You have to have a spiritual disposition that allows you to look for how suffering produces perseverance and then character and then hope.
This is the only prism by which I can look at my battle with chronic pain and illness. I simply will not let this experience go to waste. How about you?