Living with chronic illness in light of the cross
A theology of suffering
An older Christian once told me, “if you live long enough, you will suffer”. Over the years, I have seen how true this statement is and for our young family, it has been around the area of health. As I look back, I have vivid memories of two occasions where my wife and I sat anxiously while the doctors were trying their best to deliver to us sad and life-changing news. Having walked through such dark moments, I am now even more convinced that we need a good theology of suffering. This is especially so, given the rise of the wealth-and-health gospel, which though appealing, does not prepare Christians for the grim reality of the brokenness of life this side of heaven. With a good theology of suffering, these deep and dark moments often result in a deeper knowledge of God and a unique understanding of what it means to trust in him.
We had just welcomed our 3rd born, a daughter, and my wife was still in hospital as the baby had breathing problems and needed to be on oxygen. I was holding the fort at home with our two kids aged 4 and 2, anticipating the day mum and the new bub would come home. It was then that our two-year-old started to look unwell. At first we thought it was just the flu and so did our GP, who prescribed the usual flu medication. After a few days with no improvement, we decided to take him to see a specialist. Initially the specialist thought it was pneumonia and put him on treatment for that, but sadly his condition kept worsening. The specialist ordered immediate admission to the local children’s hospital and I will never forget the experience of packing bags and leaving for the hospital on the same day that my wife was coming home with our newborn. At this point, I could see how critical his condition had become and I could not look at him for long without tears rolling down my cheeks, feeling desperate and helpless for my dear son. I have found that in such moments, prayers are short, words are few, but somehow the grace of God is sufficient. In our case, I have seen the Lord providing us with some part of Scripture to hold on to in those moments where the daily Bible reading plan is hard to follow. In this case, a friend had sent us an email where they quoted Psalm 33:20-22 to encourage us, and it ended up being the perfect Scripture to carry us through that dark moment. For a few weeks following, I kept going back to the same passage and I don’t know how many times I read it and felt this was a word in season:
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.
After learning that our son had a chronic condition, we were both relieved as this explained a lot of things we had noticed, but we were unsure about the new journey ahead. The next phase was to work out who we would tell and how much to divulge. We are grateful to family, friends, and our church community for the amazing support we received.
In the weeks that followed, we found ourselves learning a lot about our son’s new condition. It all felt too much but we needed to learn if we were to care for him better. One of the challenges has been to help other people understand our son’s condition and to deal with those who come as untrained experts, giving us reasons for this condition and clear instructions on how we are to care for him. We do understand most do so with a desire to be helpful, so we are at the very least grateful for the concern as we pray for more wisdom and grace in our response. One thing for sure is that there are many misconceptions out there and in some way we do understand since we also knew very little until our son’s diagnosis.
Living on the edge
I don’t think I even knew that there are different types of diabetes, or the various causes. Many people believe that all cases of diabetes are as a result of poor eating habits and high sugar intake. Well, the diagnosis came as a shock for us given that our general principle is to keep our kids off sugar till they are 2 years of age and also that we have no known history of diabetes in either of our families. T1D is actually an auto immune condition where one’s immune system attacks the pancreas beta cells that produce insulin, leaving the body unable to regulate blood sugar levels.
Now, in some way life can end anytime for any of us if the Lord so wills, but it is fair to say that life with T1D is like living on the edge. Just a week after the diagnosis, we had a scary episode where we ended up in the emergency room with our son unconscious and trying to explain to the doctors who did not believe us that he has T1D. Thankfully his paediatrician arrived in time and all he needed was some glucose to bring him back to consciousness. This was the first week of learning to administer insulin and count the calories for almost everything that he eats. In the diabetes world they call it “pancreasing” and it can be exhausting. More and more I have been reminded that our lives are in God’s hands and even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we are not to fear, for the Lord is with us:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The cross changes everything
When the Lord Jesus was hanging on the cross he cried out, “It is finished.” He accomplished everything that is needed for our salvation on that cross. Paul tells us that because of the complete and perfect work of Christ on the cross to pay for our sins, one day he will usher in a perfect world where these imperfect bodies will be clothed with perfection (1 Cor 13:10). We do not know everything now about the new creation, but one thing we do know is that the effects of sin will be no more. There will be no crying or mourning, for the Lord the maker of all flesh will dwell again with his people and he promises, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). I take this to mean that even my son’s body will be made new and the chronic condition will be a thing of the past. Now, I don’t know what it is about this broken world or our weak and imperfect bodies that you struggle with the most, but one thing I know is that if you have put your trust in Jesus, when he comes again to make all things new, we will look back and marvel at the amazing gift of the cross.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Come Lord Jesus come!
Yours may not be T1D. Yours may not be chronic, but one thing we have in common as Christians everywhere is that we all face trials of many kinds (Jas 1:2). Life this side of heaven will not be perfect. The more we live and the more we face all sorts of suffering, we long for the day when our Lord and Saviour will appear. I am very grateful for God’s generous provision and the advances in medical technology like the device we have which allows us to monitor our son’s glucose levels remotely even when he is at school, but none of that compares to the day when all will be made new. Nothing compares to the day when we will sleep without having to remember to listen to the alarm notifying us that we need to give him a juice box or insulin. A day when my son will be able to spend the day without getting 4 shots of insulin. It may be tomorrow. It may be in a thousand years. I am grateful for the grace of the Lord which is sufficient for us in our weaknesses.
Come Lord Jesus come!
This article was originally published as a blog post here.