By: Olivia Hitz

“The joy of the Lord is my strength,” I whisper to myself as I exhale through the pain in my hip. I’m standing in line to go up to the communion rail on Sunday morning, but I might as well be anywhere else because I’m certainly not thinking about what the pastor just preached. I breathe through the pain because I know that sitting down is not an option right now – and neither is falling over. “Just a couple more minutes and I’ll be back in the pew, sitting down.” 

Those minutes pass, I get communion, and I’m back in the pew, safely seated. A bit later, it’s time for the prayers and more standing. At this moment, I have two options: 1) I can sit down but risk worried looks from others and my own anxious mind; or 2) I can stay standing while we pray but risk being distracted by pain the whole time. This dilemma creates a battle in my head every Sunday, and I rarely win. 

If you know me, you’ve probably noticed that I frequently use a walking cane to get around. I have fibromyalgia (FM), a chronic illness that causes pain in the joints and muscles. I’ve had FM since I was twelve, so suffering has become a regular part of my life. Those who have a chronic condition know that every aspect of life becomes a draining challenge. Something as simple as grocery shopping can be enough to wipe me out for the whole day. 

Those who know me also know I’m a fast-talking extrovert who wants to do everything all the time. During my freshman year of college, I worked harder than I ever have, joined every extracurricular that I could, took a full load of classes, and worked 20 hours a week. As you may have guessed, this didn’t go so well for me. I ended up missing work and classes thanks to FM, and I needed to use a cane just to get to the other side of the room. It was not good. I wanted to do everything that I thought I was supposed to do, but what I really needed to do was slow down and take care of myself.

Suffering is objectively bad, and joy is objectively good. We know that the Lord wants us to experience joy in this life, not suffering. That’s why he gave us all the good things that we have. But we also know that He didn’t promise our lives would be without pain on this earth. Instead, He promises, when we experience suffering, to use it for our good. Not even God’s Son was exempt from suffering in this life. Jesus suffered the worst form of punishment that the Romans could think up. And His suffering was used for our ultimate good. He willingly endured torture and the cross so that we could be saved. Jesus understands pain, and He sees and upholds His children in their suffering. 

Maybe you’re like me and it seems like you’ve tried everything- you’ve been to every kind of doctor, had all the medical tests done, and even tried the homeopathic stuff- but nothing seems to help. You feel lost in your condition and trapped in your suffering. Your days and nights are consumed by an illness, and you feel alone. But you are not alone. Christ is with you. Always.

It would be easy to define myself by my disability and point to it when I’m struggling. But that is not who I am. I have fibromyalgia, but more importantly, I am a child of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ through His perfect suffering. With FM, I will have good days and bad days, but even if they were all good days, I still wouldn’t have complete rest and peace without Christ and His promises. 

Even though my experience with suffering is objectively undesirable, I count it a blessing. My suffering has forced me to cling closer to God’s promises and rely completely on Him. It has made me realize that I have been blessed with so many wonderful gifts on this earth, including loving family and friends who take care of me. 

It has also given me the opportunity to talk to others who are suffering so that we can support each other physically and spiritually. The best advice that I can give to anyone who is suffering is: Trust in God. He hears you when you cry and sees your pain when no one else does. He extends His love and His promises to everyone, including the disabled, the weak, and the suffering. Psalm 119:50 provides a wonderful reminder of this: 

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.”

Heavenly Father, You know the suffering of Your people on this earth. Comfort us with Your peace and rest when we go through trials in this life. Remind us of Your promises and Your goodness every day until we meet You in Heaven where there will be no crying, no mourning, and no pain. Amen.