A lot led up to you and me meeting here today. Living the chronic illness life is hard and I think it’s safe to say that we all struggle to feel/experience joy.
Joy was an emotion for so long that I lacked and even envied because I misunderstood it. Nowadays I talk a lot about joy, and the joy that has been found in this journey. As you find this post today, I don’t know how you are feeling about joy. Maybe you haven’t felt joy in a while and question why God appears to be withholding it from you, and not others on a similar path. Maybe you are delighting in joy and ready to cheer others on. I would tend to bet you feel somewhere in the middle, which is where I have found myself lately.
This past month I challenged myself to, “focus on the sunshine not the shade.” Now this may seem like a trivial quote that I created, but that could not be farther from the truth. This quote came out of some deep truths God has been imprinting on my heart this year. The first was to fix my eyes on the Son and on nothing else, because if I’m not in the light then I’m in the dark. I don’t want to be anywhere that Jesus is not. Secondly, to focus on the wonderful community found here at Living the Chronic Illness Life and the Chronically Cultivating Podcast, and not focus on those who want to throw shade. This challenge has tested my faith in ways I never imagined and continues to grow me even when I want to uproot and walk away. When God put this image of focusing on sunshine and not shade it shook me to my core. I took time to explore it so that I could faithfully move where He has called me.
Grasping the concept of a life long illness (progressive or not) takes a while to process; it also takes those we love and share life with time to process this reality as well. Until we process our reality, we cannot live with it, and if our family and friends do not process this to- it can lead to unintentional invalidation and brokenness.
Over the years, I have seen how toxic some support groups are and the online chronic illness community can be. There has been a stigma that has been created that tells us that we can’t enjoy life and celebrate it if we are “truly sick.”
Now the Word of God tells us something different, and that is that:
We do not have to be grateful for all circumstances, but we can be grateful in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
We can follow Him in every season and emotion because there is a time for everything- brokenness and joy. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-12)
We can harness the joy of the Lord no matter how terrible the situation or circumstance and that the joy will also be our strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
Now there are many, many more examples, but let’s focus on Nehemiah 8:10.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10 NLT
Before we unpack this verse, I want to give some of my thoughts about the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was not a priest or prophet, but a man who loved God and helped bring spiritual revival to the Jews. The Jews were facing great hardship and didn’t have the things the world tells us we need to experience joy. Yet through Nehemiah’s faithful leadership, he helped the people of God repent and modeled truly living with the joy of the Lord as his strength.
The world’s idea of “joy” is living a full life when you have everything, but that simply isn’t true.
That is why here it clearly states that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This is a very definitive statement. The only way we will experience joy that becomes strength is in Him. That’s why it DOESN’T say the, “the joy of relationships is your strength,” “the joy of health is your strength,” or “the joy of wealth is your strength.” Again, He is the ONLY way that we can experience joy that turns into strength, and we get there by repenting and committing to experiencing joy rather than creating it.
When we hear the word repent, we tend to think of asking for grace and forgiveness for sin. Now having a chronic illness is not a sin or just present because of something you did (see John 9:1-4 for more on that.) In order to experience the Lord’s joy, we must repent and stop trying to create and be responsible for our own joy. It’s exhausting to be in charge of creating joy! This is why I don’t claim to be joy-ful but joy-filled!
I know I don’t need to be full to experience joy, I just need to be filled with His joy.
Some people feel that with EDS and other chronic/progressive illnesses that, “you can’t be that joyful and that sick.” When you allow His joy to fill you in even the worst of circumstances, it can create confusion (maybe even envy) for someone who is exhausted creating their own joy, but I am here today to set the record straight.
Your ability to allow God’s joy to strengthen you and give you hope DOES NOT INVALIDATE YOUR DIAGNOSIS.
Your ability to be broken and be grateful in the same season DOES NOT INVALIDATE YOUR DIAGNOSIS.
Your ability to celebrate the good in this life, even in the tiniest of victories, DOES NOT INVALIDATE YOUR DIAGNOSIS.
“You can’t be that joyful and that sick” is a LIE.
I am living proof that is a lie, and if you are seeking the Lord despite and in your circumstances imperfectly like me, you are also living proof of that lie.
On this platform, we want everyone to feel validated, respected, and safe here in the Living the Chronic Illness life Blog + Instagram Community and in the Chronically Cultivating podcast community. Anytime we post anything or talk about anything we open ourselves up to judgement, but that does not excuse hateful accusations or harassment.
We have added some community guidelines for these platforms to empower you to process your diagnosis’, season of life, and relationship with God while living the chronic illness life in a judgement free zone. You can find those guidelines here.
Our diagnosis can be the same, but our stories, treatments, and medical decisions might look and be different. That’s okay and welcomed here! God created us each to be unique individuals even in the realm of chronic illness.
I aim to share what God reveals to me on this very imperfect journey. So friends, you are welcome here and invited to join me in learning how to harness the joy of the Lord and focus on the sunshine not the shade.