A Life of Purpose with Chronic Illness (Part 1)

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This is the first of a planned series of blog posts on the topic of purpose.  It is being fueled by the writing of my new book, Weak and Indispensable, A Life of Purpose for the Chronically Ill and their Families, which I am hoping to complete by September of 2017.

Living with a chronic disease or disability is a rough road.  Incurable physical afflictions have weapons that are painful and relentless: the progression of symptoms, disabling pain, discouraging longevity, and envy-tempting restrictions.  Just in the past year Margaret has experienced the development of early stage heart failure, coupled with blindness in her right eye.  These conditions have been added to her deluge of chronic fatigue, searing chest pain, shortness of breath, joint pain, and abdominal discomfort.  As her husband and primary caregiver, I have had to look at the progression of her symptoms with a helpless sorrow.  My wife is losing her medical battle in a painful, sequential, physical progression. One thing in all of this is certain—apart from a medical miracle, “normal” for us in the foreseeable future is a life permeated with an array of symptom-induced troubles we wouldn’t wish on anyone.

On a deeper level, I have had to ask myself if there is a beneficial purpose for a family like ours.  Are we destined to just play our version of “Christian Survivor,” where our major accomplishment in life is to simply persevere?  Is the primary point of our disability and pain to burden others?  Are we facing our medical challenges to be a living counterexample to people, so they can be thankful they don’t have to suffer like us? Or is it possible, despite our daily limitations, there is something with immense significance we are called to do?   Is there a truth-based mission to be embraced and followed when our medical prognosis is so discouragingly negative?

Let’s face it—in our action-orientated culture that promotes worth based on ability, activity, and achievements, for those of us whose lives have been slowed by chronic illness there can be a heart-crushing crisis of purpose.  The world of disabling physical affliction can leave you to wonder if your life now has substandard value.  After all, you can’t do the things you used to, or the things you want to.  As a patient, the key accomplishment of your day may be to safely navigate your home for a few trips to the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.  As a caregiver, your daily list of successes entail providing quality care for a loved one while at the same time shouldering the weight of life’s typical challenges.  Whether you are a patient or caregiver, our performance-driven culture may make you feel like you’ve left a life of once productive value to one of seemingly burdensome, fatiguing irrelevance.

Is this the case?  Are the sick, disabled, and those who care for them somehow less important?  Since they can’t be “doers,” does that mean they have lost their significance in our churches and communities?  Thankfully, the answer to these questions is a resounding “NO!” As you shall see, God has designed a life of significance for the chronically ill, both individually and in the lives of other people.

So, stay tuned.  Over the next few months, our blog will be highlighting key truths that will inspire you to live a meaningful life with your chronic illness.

May God richly strengthen you in your medical battle.

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