Overcoming Fear Through Chronic Illness and Loss
Overcoming Fear Through Chronic Illness and Loss
Wikipedia says that the phrase “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. A quick Google search says there are 365 times this phrase is used in the Bible, as many as there are days in the year! In these times of global pandemic, fear and anxiety have blossomed, and the media is quick to remind us the multitude of reasons we have to be afraid. I have often struggled with my own battles of fear and anxiety. For the past 13 years, I have lived with chronic illness. Before I became ill, I was fearless and traveled all over the world by myself, living by the motto, “A life without risk is a life not lived.” I participated in many physical adventures like rock climbing, spelunking in caves, iron man races, long distance running, and swing dancing all hours into the night. I was bold and brave, in part, because I had a strong faith and identity in Christ, and also because I was young, healthy, and energetic. All of that changed when I moved to China in 2006 to teach art in an international school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my 2-year stint in China would set off a chain of ongoing health events that would end up plaguing me for the next 13 years.
Before my illness, I didn’t have many fears. In fact, the last big fear I remember, as a child, is being afraid of going to Hell. Having grown up in a southern hellfire and brimstone type church, I remember being afraid to go to sleep many nights due to that fear. I became a Christian at the age of 8, in part, because of that fear, and it wasn’t until later at age 12 that I really understood the Gospel, began to have a relationship with Christ, and let go of that fear.
When I first became sick, I just thought I was tired from adjusting to living in another culture. Culture shock was a thing many missionaries and teachers talked about, so I didn’t pay much attention to the fatigue and increasing pain in my muscles. The severity of my condition came to a head, years later, when I had my first miscarriage (I would later go on to lose another child but thankfully gave birth to three healthy children, eventually), and my health took a downward spiral. My health wasn’t the only thing that suffered. My faith took a nosedive because, for the first time, something truly awful had happened to me, and I couldn’t understand why God would allow it. I was angry, and I let bitterness push me away from God, creating space for fear to step in. From that point on fear was a daily battle, and even when I repaired my relationship with God a few years later, it still plagued me.
It is easy to let chronic illness, and the fear and anxiety it brings, to consume your life. When you have seen multiple doctors and tried countless treatments only to receive one diagnosis after another, but yet never find relief or answers for your pain and suffering, the fears pile up. What is this new symptom? Is it going to be permanent? What else will I lose this time? What if I can’t do the things I used to do anymore? What is causing this pain and fatigue? Am I going to be sick forever? Two years ago, I reached a climax point of fear when heart palpitations and crushing fatigue sent me to the ER twice in one month. I didn’t understand what was going on in my body, and I was afraid I was dying. It was at this point I made the decision to study all I could in the Bible about fear. I realized I was fighting a battle and losing because I wasn’t using the armor of God. I began listening to Christian podcasts, reaching out to friends for prayer, reading books, and talking to a therapist about my emotions. Fear and anxiety slowly began to lessen as I began to heal and grow in wisdom. I got into some good healthy practices that over time brought me out of the dark places I had been in emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes we need a multifaceted approach to overcoming our fears. I know I definitely have called on friends and the church for prayer and support as I was climbing out of that pit.
Very recently, COVID-19 came into our home. The very thing we were all supposed to be afraid of for months had finally made its way to my family. When my husband came back with a positive COVID-19 test, my initial reaction was fear and worry again. But this time it was very short-lived as I was reminded to “fear not” and remembered that God was still in control. Because of the mild nature of my husband’s case, I now had to play the waiting game to see if the rest of us started to have symptoms. I should have been afraid, right? Yet, after disinfecting the house that day, I sat down and prayed and God gave me supernatural peace. It carried me all through his illness. I was no longer worried or afraid. Not because I have mastered fear, but because my chronic illness journey and battle with fear had already prepared me. Having chronic illness for 13 years forced me to face all of my worst fears about death and the future. God had already prepared my heart and had grown my trust in Him, something I didn’t fully understand when I was young and healthy. I know I am vulnerable and utterly dependent on Him. I can’t do things in my own strength because of my weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
I hope this testimony will be encouraging as you consider fear in your own life. One of my favorite authors, Susie Larson, recently said about these times, “You have an enemy, and it’s not the coronavirus. If your enemy can’t get you sick with the virus, he will try to get you sick with worry and fear.” I can attest to the power of getting in the Word and giving your fears to God. Trust Him, He isn’t surprised by all of this, He is still in control. Psalm 91 has been a constant reminder during this time that I no longer have to be afraid. Worrying lowers your immune system and takes your focus off of God. Ask God for wisdom in regards to your health and worries, and I believe He will answer you, just as He did for me.
“You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow, Say this: ‘GOD, you’re my refuge. I trust in you and I’m safe!’ That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps, shields you from deadly hazards. His huge outstretched arms protect you—under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm. Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows in the day, not disease that prowls through the darkness, not disaster that erupts at high noon. Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze you. You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance, watch the wicked turn into corpses. Yes, because GOD’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling. You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes, and kick young lions and serpents from the path.