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A New Normal: Finding Life amidst Chronic Illness

Four-and-a-half years ago an autoimmune condition slipped into my system. Like Troy’s Trojan horse, it unleashed a stealth attack. And the battle that ensued left me battling bouts of exhaustion and extreme fatigue.  

When our bodies don’t work like we want them to, we’re often left searching for a new normal. Yet as we embrace the journey, we learn to acknowledge our humanness, rest in God’s presence, and ultimately find new life.  

Listen Deeply: It requires attentiveness to acknowledge the changing needs within us. We may notice our need for more sleep, cravings for solitude, or longings for better health. And only as we pay attention, can we give ourselves permission to ease up, take a break, and make the necessary adjustments.

When my illness began, I had just stepped down from a demanding church position. I planned to rest, write, and then reenter the workplace. Instead I found myself filling my calendar with endless doctor visits and battling bouts of fatigue.

At first I pushed through the pain, until I realized something deeper simmered within my soul. For months I had disregarded my desire for silence and solitude. For years I had tossed and turned through anxious, sleepless nights. Soon I recognized that my physical symptoms reflected my internal state.

Sometimes we’re afraid to slow down. We feel guilty about our limitations, and we ignore our exhaustion. But sooner or later, the pressure shows. We can either keep running or see the signals as God’s invitation to admit our humanness and seek his rest. 

Adjust Rhythms: As we allow ourselves to slow down, we begin to discover afresh what invigorates us, drains us, and gives us joy. Slowly we’re able develop new rhythms that honor the pace we can sustain in this season and make space for the activities that bring life and healing.

Once I started listening to my body, I began scheduling things that nourished me physically and emotionally—I made time for exercise; I learned how to cook nourishing meals; and I sought out community in a few trusted girlfriends. Eventually, I found a pace that promoted peace instead of hurriedness and anxiety.

Our lives are ever-changing, so we must always be adjusting. Practically that means we can’t do everything that gives us life all at one time—but we can do something. Prioritize, streamline, and pick the one or two things that heal and refresh the most.

Accept Limitations: As we acknowledged the changes taking place within and around us, we slowly learn to accept ourselves and our new healthier pace. For most of us, this is an endless battle as we’re ever adjusting and asking for grace.

In four-and-a-half years, I’ve made great strides toward better health and life balance. But I still can’t keep the pace my younger, healthier self could once manage. And honestly, it still frustrates me.

I’ve found that the practices of Sabbath and daily review help me acknowledge my limitations and invite God into my broken places. I need a day—or at least half of one—where I can nap, read, or make an unhurried meal. Most weeks my husband and I set aside Sunday afternoons for this, but figure out what works best for you.  

Many spiritual directors also advocate a daily review as a way to help us attend to God’s presence more consistently. At the conclusion of your day, take ten minutes to look back over your activities. Talk with God about the life-giving and draining parts. Invite his Spirit to surface longings or insecurities. Confess sin, surrender worries, and rest.  

Engaging with God on a daily and weekly basis allows us to operate from a place of security and less out of stress. We sense his approval of us, regardless of how much we accomplished that day or week. We serve and share from his abundance, instead of our own exhaustion. And we embrace the present as the place where God is with us and providing for us.

How have you learned to accept limitations and find life in your current season? 

Amanda DeWitt

Amanda DeWitt is a freelance writer, coach's wife, and mom. She completed her bachelor’s at Dallas Baptist University and holds a M.A. in media and communication from Dallas Theological Seminary. When she's not typing away at her computer, she's chasing her two little boys or watching her husband coach high school football.

One Comment

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    Nicole Mello

    Hi,

    Hi,

    My name is Nicole and in 2013 I was also thrown into the chose of having a autoimmune disease invade my own body. (Lupus) It is a daily struggle as you know yourself. It is so hard to regain your balance after having such a life changing thing crash into your life. I am still trying to figure out the limitations in my own life and find it harder most of the time. I find myself wanting to give up on most days. Sadly (but not to tear down) unlike you, my husband is not as supportive of the changes that I know I need to make in my life. We used to do so much together and now most of these things I can no longer do or I can only do for a very short time. lupus has effected my brain and nervous system, so I have seizures. I wont lie it angers me more often then not, that I can no longer keep up. I am on a constant emotional rollercoaster. From feeling anger, guilt and disperse. Not many people know or understand what you go through in these daily battles, or how much of a victory it is when you force yourself out of bed every margining. My husband, I know satan is using to tear me down and keep me in a state of disperse and guilt. I often find myself unable to look him in the eyes when I have a seizure or when I do not have the strength or the pain is to overwhelming to get the simple things such as, Dishes, laundry or simply walking the dog. I feel unworthy to meet look him in the eyes, and guilty that he is the only one in our family that can work. I keep a lot of my suffering to myself I find myself falling apart more and more everyday, I feel alone and this disperse that is latching itself onto me more and more harder to ignore. I know that God says he is always with me, and to call to him. However even lately I feel God has even been silent. Unable to sleep and losing more and more of myself. I cry out to God daily yet hear nothing, I get no peace no relief no matter how many time I cry or talk to him. The last few months I have been finding myself wondering why I continue to endure this fight. I and finding less and less of reasons to even want to be in this awful world. I know full well that satan himself is the one casting this darkness into my heart. But I no longer have the strength to fight and there is no one left to carry me or show me which way to go. I am lost. and  becoming more empty everyday.