Last week a lot of the students in my youth group went to New York City on a service trip. They got to minister to the homeless and share the gospel with people who need Jesus. I, on the other hand, spent most of my week in bed. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. My Chronic illnesses frequently cause me to miss out on things my healthy peers are doing. Honestly, missing out on so many things is the absolute HARDEST part of my chronic illness. Everyone around me seems so energetic and active, while I often feel like I am not able to do much at all. I’m sure that everyone living with chronic pain and/or chronic illness has felt like this at least once. I know firsthand how difficult and saddening it is to miss out due to my illnesses, but as a Christian I don’t have to stay in the sadness and heartache. Neither do you. Keep reading and join with me in exploring how God calls us to think about and react to missing out.
1. Run from jealousy
It is natural to feel sad when we miss out. It is also natural to desire to be able to do things that others are doing. God doesn’t call us to stop feeling anything, but to follow Him (and not our emotions) with the strength that He gives us. The danger arises when our natural grief escalates into sinful envy. When we think of jealousy, we usually think of coveting other peoples’ money, social status, or appearance. But as chronically ill people, our jealousy can be directed toward other peoples’ health. Again, it is normal to want to be healthy. That is not a sin. However, it becomes a sin when we idolize health and grow resentful toward those who are healthier than us.
1 Peter 2:1-2, which says: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” lists envy among the sins we are to put off. Our envy doesn’t get written off because of our circumstances. God calls us to obey His commands no matter what we are going through. And when we really think about it, jealousy does nothing to make us feel better. It only makes us feel worse. When we are envious, we are focusing so intently on what others have (and what we don’t) that there is no way we can possibly be content in God or loving toward the people we are envying. Without contentment and love, we are bound to feel miserable.
The great news is that when we repent of this sin and ask for God’s forgiveness, He forgives us 100%. Not only does He forgive us, but He even gives us the strength to resist that sin in the future, and the ability to put on love and gratitude instead. So, before we can do any of the following things, we must humbly repent of our jealousy.
2. Rest in contentment
Contentment is not something that comes easily to us. We live each day in pain and with symptoms we wouldn’t have chosen. We desire to be able to do things that others are doing. We want to serve God in ways that other people are serving Him. So how can we be content in a situation we would prefer to escape? In Philippians 4:11 Paul says this about contentment: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:” Paul did not make this statement because all he had ever experienced was easy. It would be no problem being content all of the time if our lives were all sunshine and rainbows. Paul’s life was far from that. In fact, he was in a horrible situation while he penned those very words. He was locked up in a prison for the sake of the gospel. He too was “missing out” on things others were doing and ministry opportunities because he was in chains.
So how can we who are suffering and missing out learn to be content in whatever we are going through? The answer is looking at what we have through Christ instead of focusing on what we wish was different in our lives. Any time we become discontent, we can trace it back to failing to remember what God has done for us. When we forget what He has done for us, we aren’t able to be content because we don’t realize how much we already have. Here are just a few of the things God has done for us:
- He has made us alive. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
- He has adopted us (Ephesians 1:4-5)
- He has forgiven all of our sins (Colossians 2:13)
- He has made us heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:7)
- He became sin for us so we could become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21)
He did all of this for us when we were enemies of Him (Romans 5:10), spiritually dead, (Ephesians 2:1) and completely sinful (Romans 3:23)! Titus 3:5 tells us that all of this was done for us “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.“
As we focus on the gospel we can be more than content because we can clearly see how undeserving we are as well as how abundantly Jesus satisfies us. He has given us far more than we deserve through His death for us! When we set our minds on that truth, our discontentment shrivels and we humbly realize that we don’t need to be in a different situation to be content. That is what is so amazing about true contentment. It doesn’t require perfect circumstances (or even okay ones) to flourish. Contentment can grow in the darkest places because its roots are based on truths that are constant and unchanging.
We can also be encouraged in contentment by recognizing that God is just as faithful today as He was when He endured the cross. He gives us so many reasons to be content, past and present. Hebrews 13:5 instructs believers to: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Through this verse, God reveals to us that we can be content with any situation because Jesus is with us and will never forsake us. Even if we are missing out on other things, we can never miss out on Him! He is faithfully by our sides no matter what.
3. Refocus on what you can do
By dwelling on what we are missing out on, we actually end up missing out on what is right in front of us. But when we are resting in contentment that is founded on the gospel, we begin to notice all the things we are still able to do. I’ll admit it isn’t always easy to see the things we can do, even if they’re right under our noses. It takes intentionality and strength from God to do it. It’s a lot easier to notice our limitations, but when we discover the seemingly hidden or unimportant things we can do and do them to God’s glory we can have true joy!
It’s kinda like a scavenger hunt. It takes time to notice the things we are still able to do, but once we uncover them we get to experience the rewards of gratitude and God-given purpose! Here are a few examples of little things we can do:
- We may not be able to minister to needy people in New York, but we can still encourage people in our local churches.
- We may not be able to make a difference in hundreds of people’s lives, but we can be faithful with the people God has already placed in our lives.
- We may not be able to be super active or even moderately so, but we have abundant opportunities to dig into God’s word when we are stuck in bed.
The gospel fuels gratitude and shifts our perspective from what we are missing out on to what we have the ability to do (whatever that may be). Let’s be intentional about thanking Jesus for the things we are able to do, and faithfully doing them for His glory!
Why don’t you do a mini scavenger hunt of your own? You might just be surprised with the list you come up with. You can even write it down and refer to it in the future when you feel like you are missing out. You may also find this post about living for God when you are chronically ill encouraging.