Do Not Let Illness Rob You of Joy
PICTURE yourself waking up wishing that the day would end before it has even begun. You have to cope with physical or emotional pain yet another day. You may even feel like Job, who said: “I would prefer death to all my sufferings.” (Job 7:15, The New English Bible) What if such a condition persists, even for years?
That was the case with Mephibosheth, the son of King David’s friend Jonathan. When Mephibosheth was five years old, he “had a fall and was lamed.” (2 Sam. 4:4) Emotional distress must have increased the pain of his disability when he was later falsely accused of betraying the king and then suffered a material loss. Yet, he consistently showed himself to be a wonderful example in coping with infirmity, slander, and disappointments, not letting such rob him of joy.—2 Sam. 9:6-10; 16:1-4; 19:24-30.
The apostle Paul is another example. He once wrote about “a thorn in the flesh” with which he had to contend. (2 Cor. 12:7) The thorn he mentioned might have been a long-term disability, or it could have been the people who challenged his apostleship. Whatever the case, the problem lingered, and he had to deal with the physical or emotional pain it brought.—2 Cor. 12:9, 10.
Debilitating chronic illnesses or emotional stresses plague some of God’s servants today. At the age of 18, Magdalena was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, a disease in which the body’s immune defenses seem to attack its own organs. “I was terrified,” she says. “As time went by, my condition worsened and was aggravated by digestive disorders, mouth ulcers, and thyroid problems.” Izabela, on the other hand, has to put up with conditions that are not so obvious. She explains: “From childhood I have suffered from depression. This has resulted in panic attacks, breathing problems, and stomach cramps. I am generally left exhausted.”
Sickness and infirmity can upset your life. When that happens, it helps to sit down and honestly appraise your situation. Accepting your limitations may not be easy. Magdalena says: “My disease is progressive. I often feel too exhausted to get out of bed. The unpredictable nature of my disease makes planning ahead very difficult. My greatest frustration is that I can no longer do as much as I used to do in Jehovah’s service.”
Zbigniew explains: “As the years go by, rheumatoid arthritis saps my energy, damaging one joint after another. At times, when the inflammation is severe, I am unable to perform the simplest of tasks. That leaves me feeling dejected.”
Some years ago, Barbara was diagnosed with a progressive brain tumor. “My body has undergone sudden changes,” she comments. “I feel listless, experience frequent headaches, and encounter concentration problems. Because of my newfound limitations, I had to reevaluate everything.”
All these individuals are dedicated servants of Jehovah. For them, doing his will takes priority. They put their complete trust in God and benefit from his support.—Prov. 3:5, 6.
We should avoid thinking that a personal affliction is evidence of God’s displeasure. (Lam. 3:33) Think of what Job had to go through despite being “blameless and upright.” (Job 1:8) God does not try anyone with evil things. (Jas. 1:13) All illnesses—including the chronic and the emotional—are a dismal legacy from our first parents, Adam and Eve.—Rom. 5:12.
Jehovah and Jesus, however, will not leave the righteous ones without help. (Ps. 34:15) Especially at difficult moments in our lives, we come to appreciate that God is ‘our refuge and our stronghold.’ (Ps. 91:2) So, then, when coping with conditions that have no easy solution, what can help you to maintain joy?
Prayer: Following the pattern of God’s faithful servants of old, you can throw your burden on our heavenly Father in prayer. (Ps. 55:22) In doing so, you can experience “the peace of God that excels all thought.” That inner peace “will guard your hearts and your mental powers.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) By relying on God through prayer, Magdalena copes with her debilitating disease. She says: “Pouring out my heart to Jehovah brings relief and restores my joy. Now I really understand what it means to rely on God day by day.”—2 Cor. 1:3, 4.
In response to your prayers, Jehovah can give you strength by means of his holy spirit, his Word, and the Christian brotherhood. You would not expect God to remove your infirmity miraculously. Yet, you can count on him to give you the wisdom and strength needed to cope with each adversity. (Prov. 2:7) He can fortify you, giving you “the power beyond what is normal.”—2 Cor. 4:7.
Family: A loving and compassionate atmosphere at home can help you to endure illness. Bear in mind, though, that your loved ones also suffer. They may feel as helpless as you feel. Still, they are there for you, even in trying times. Praying together will help you keep a calm heart.—Prov. 14:30.
Barbara says regarding her daughter and other young sisters in the congregation: “They support me in the ministry. Their zeal warms my heart.” Zbigniew finds his wife’s support invaluable. “She looks after most of the household chores. She also helps me get dressed and often carries my bag to the Christian meetings and in the ministry.”
Fellow believers: When we are in company with our fellow believers, we are encouraged and consoled. But what if you cannot attend meetings because of your illness? Magdalena comments: “The congregation has made sure that I benefit from the meetings by means of audio recordings. My fellow worshippers often call me to see what else they can do to help. They also send me encouraging letters. The thought that they remember me and are concerned about my well-being helps me to endure.”
Izabela, who suffers from depression, relates: “Within the congregation, I have many ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers,’ those who listen and try to understand me. The congregation is my family—here is where I experience peace and joy.”
Those who suffer various trials do well to avoid ‘isolating themselves.’ Rather, they treasure their association with the congregation. (Prov. 18:1) They thus become a huge source of encouragement to others. You may hesitate at first to let the brothers and sisters know of your needs. Yet, your fellow believers will appreciate your frankness. It will afford them an opportunity to extend “unhypocritical brotherly affection.” (1 Pet. 1:22) Why not let them know that you need a ride to the meeting, would like to work with them in the ministry, or want to have a heart-to-heart conversation? Of course, we should not be demanding but be appreciative of their help.
Be positive: The key to coping with chronic illness without losing joy is often in your own hands. A gloomy disposition and despondent feelings can lead to negative thinking. The Bible states: “The spirit of a man can put up with his malady; but as for a stricken spirit, who can bear it?”—Prov. 18:14.
Magdalena notes: “I work hard to avoid focusing on my problems. I try to enjoy the days when I do feel better. I find encouragement in reading the life stories of people who have remained faithful despite chronic illness.” Izabela is strengthened by the thought that Jehovah loves and values her. She says: “I feel needed, and I have someone to live for. I also have a wonderful prospect for the future.”
Zbigniew says: “My illness teaches me humility and obedience. It teaches me to show insight and good judgment as well as to forgive from the heart. I have learned to enjoy serving Jehovah without feelings of self-pity. In fact, I have been motivated to keep on making spiritual progress.”
Keep in mind that Jehovah carefully notes your endurance. He feels for you in your suffering and cares for you. He will not “forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Heb. 6:10) Take to heart the promise he makes to all who fear him: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.”—Heb. 13:5.
If on occasion you do feel down, focus on the wonderful hope of living in the new world. The time is fast approaching when your own eyes will see on the earth the blessings of God’s Kingdom!
[Box/Pictures on pages 28, 29]
They Keep Preaching Despite Chronic Illness
“I can no longer walk by myself, so my wife or some other brothers and sisters accompany me in the ministry. I memorize presentations and Bible scriptures.”—Jerzy, visually impaired.
“In addition to doing telephone witnessing, I write letters and regularly correspond with a few interested ones. While in the hospital, I always put the Bible and publications next to my bed. That has helped me to strike up many good conversations.”—Magdalena, diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus.
“I like the door-to-door ministry, but when I am not feeling up to it, I engage in telephone witnessing.”—Izabela, suffers from clinical depression.
“I enjoy making return visits and helping out on Bible studies. On my better days, I like to witness from house to house.”—Barbara, who has a brain tumor.
“I carry only a very light magazine bag. I stay out as long as my aching joints allow.”—Zbigniew, rheumatoid arthritis patient.
[Picture on page 30]
Young and old can be sources of encouragement