A lesson worth remembering, by a wise and dear friend. Her words reflect all of my thoughts and feelings that I have not been able to put into words. God grant me the
Serenity Prayer for the Chronically Ill
By Darla Isackson
I have a spirit that wants to run 100 miles an hour; it is housed in a body that can scarcely run at all. The mountains of worthy projects I would gladly require of myself must largely go undone. I know I am in good company. Chronic illness, caused by any number of conditions, is a common complaint in our society. How to best deal with it is an ongoing question.
Trusting the Lord's foreknowledge when I was young and very sick, a person I trusted prayed for me, He felt inspired to say that the Lord promised me the health and strength I need to live to fill my life's mission. Not the strength to win the Olympics or run marathons — but to fill MY life's mission. The Lord knew perfectly about the genetic weaknesses and super sensitive nervous system of the body he was sending my spirit to live in. He also had foreknowledge of the accidents, illnesses, and emotional traumas that would affect that body.
What if all those things were not obstacles to me filling my mission in life, but part of it? What if each illness, limitation, and emotional challenge has given me the exact experiences I needed, to learn what I need to learn, in order to do what the Lord wants me to do?
In response to Paul's prayer of pleading when he was imprisoned, the Lord might have told Paul that all things shall give you experience and will be for your good. In Romans 8:28 we read, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” I know that my issues are also for my good. While in jail, Paul was kept from carrying out righteous service by walls and bars and the evil of his captors. I often feel captive to the weakness of my body. At first glance, both prison bars and illness seem to be obstacles to serving the Lord.What if, instead of obstacles, limitations are part of the tutoring process, part of the humbling process, part of the refining process that make us more fit to do the work He has assigned us? Paul was a different man when he emerged from jail. Deeper, stronger, more humble, more aware of the Lord's constant care in spite of circumstances. I am a different person when, after all I can do, I accept life on the Lord's terms and trust the Lord's plan for me.
One day I was talking on the phone with a wonderful woman plagued with health problems and feeling guilty and frustrated about not being able to serve as she desired. She wept as she told me about having to say no to an opportunity to work a four-hour shift cleaning the church. (She is in her 70s!) She was greatly comforted when I shared the idea that the Lord would not assign us individually a mission or a task that is impossible because of our physical limitations. Instead he wants us to share the inner strength and important lessons we learn because of them! Granted, He often gives us strength beyond our own, but He never requires more than we can possibly give.
We ought to be content with things that God has allotted to each of us. . If, indeed, the things allotted to each were divinely customized according to our ability and capacity, then for us to seek to wrench ourselves free of every schooling circumstance in this life, is to tear ourselves away from matched opportunities. It is to go against divine wisdom.
In regard to this concept, a friend said, “I think we should do all we can to improve our health, but not 'whine' to the Lord to remove the challenge. Ask for strength, yes; ask for relief, yes; [even ask for healing] but always end our asking with 'Thy will be done.'”
Internalizing the Serenity Prayer
Recently I was impressed that the AA Serenity Prayer has great application to the health dilemmas of the chronically ill.
God grant me the
The courage part requires me to persevere in efforts to learn and apply common sense health rules—good nutrition, exercise, deep breathing, focusing thoughts on gratitude and hope, taking advantage of the many tools and treatments available. My quest has been partially successful—in spite of a serious childhood burn that resulted in a fever that would have killed me without divine intervention--and numerous challenges since--I have functional hours almost every day. Yet my health goals have not always been set with spiritual insight. Sometimes I suspect I’m trying to change what cannot be changed. In all the self-help, positive thinking, positive affirmation lingo, is the danger of humanistic thinking: "you are enough; you have everything inside you to accomplish every dream; if you just try hard enough, do enough, control your thoughts enough, you can do anything." This is not Christ's teaching.
I sometimes find more self-will than wisdom in my determination to get better. And sometimes I tire and stress myself running hither and yon seeking solutions from “arm of flesh” sources beyond what is reasonable. Rather than “Thy will be done” I often say, “I want to be well. I’m determined to get well. I’ll WILL myself well.”
What is My Part, What is the Lord’s?
The hard part is sorting out truth from error, because there is no doubt that the restoration of all things that Christ promises, includes unprecedented knowledge that we see in traditional and alternative medicine. It is also true that my thoughts and choices have a terrific impact on my body. I know that my health problems can be magnified or minimized by what I do and think. Thoughts are powerful, and some people think that the wrong thoughts have caused our illness and that absolute thought control is the only path to health.
My e-mail friend, Michelle Linford, who also suffers limitation from chronic illness, said, “What if thought control really means turning our thoughts more to the Savior, period? I don’t think He wants us to punish ourselves over what thoughts we might have had that brought us to this place of pain and illness or that we can fix those things by ourselves. My answer is choosing as much as I can to really ‘look unto Him in EVERY thought’ and to doubt not, fear not."
A trusted church leader told me I am still trying to DO it myself. That I needed to let Him TAKE it. When I told him I didn’t know how, he said something like, ‘Just pray like that; tell Heavenly Father that you can't do it yourself and don't know how to let Him carry you, but that is your desire.’ I know that what the Lord really wants is our hearts and our understanding that His grace is the source of our redemption, not our ability to accomplish and perform.”
Michelle and I have both concluded that some health problems may be, in God’s wisdom, necessary for our growth. Paul’s “thorn in the side” again comes to mind. He entreated the Lord three times that it might be removed, but the Lord’s answer indicated there was purpose in it.
The Purpose of Pain
Illness can sometimes help to slow us, tune our inner ears to hear the Spirit. A few years ago I spent a night with a stabbing, recurring pain my doctor had not been able to identify, nor medicine diminish. In the morning light, my friend Patricia came to comfort me. She rubbed my hands and feet, suggested I listen to what my body and spirit were trying to tell me. The pains became less frequent as I turned off my fear, tuned in to faith, and listened. I relaxed, said to each pain, “Teach me. What do I need to learn?” She left me feeling peaceful; as the day progressed I lay there still and open, asking for understanding. One clear message after another came to my mind. Here’s the list I recorded from that experience.
Yoked with Him
I remembered one of the greatest spiritual ah-ha moments I’d ever experienced. In a Sunday School lesson, the teacher asked us to picture a yoke with two animals pulling together, sharing the load. He suggested that the Savior’s yoke is so light because His invitation is to be yoked WITH Him, be benefited by His magnificent strength, and accept His atoning sacrifice. When I turn my life and will over to Him and accept his yoke, He makes up the difference for all my weaknesses. His strength carries me along.
I knew that as I learn to honor myself, listen, become yoked with Him, I would either heal from my illnesses or become peaceful and spiritually strong in the midst of them and able to live in a new, flowing way.
The insights I received that day carried comfort, spiritual power, and motivation to change my thinking, rely more on the Savior. I’ve learned to be grateful for “down time” when I can focus more on prayer and listening to the Spirit. Mother Teresa said that when the sisters that worked with her were sick or disabled, that was the time they could spend more time in prayer.
Prayer can help me overcome the self-absorption that so easily occurs when so much time has to be directed toward health. I get weary of the effort it takes to stay healthy enough to function at all. I want to forget myself and just serve! But forgetting myself carries with it the temptation to overdo, and I pay for it big time with lots of enforced bed rest! Now I can remember that when I’m flat in bed I can serve through praying for others.
“He leadeth me beside the still waters . . . “
I read some time ago that sheep cannot drink from fast-flowing troubled waters. They will die of thirst with water all around unless their shepherd can find them a calm, still pool to drink from. In my case, it is not the water, but me that needs to be still. My life has often been too fast-flowing and troubled to seek and drink of living waters. Consequently, I have thirsted spiritually. The scriptures were always right there, the Lord never abandoned me, but I was moving too quickly to stop and drink. Whenever I am still and willing to follow Him, my shepherd leadeth me to drink of still and living waters.
I find so much living water in the scriptures, such as:
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden [With pain? Illness? Worry? Fatigue and weakness?] and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Maybe I’m learning better what the Serenity Prayer really means:
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can and
Wisdom to know the difference.
God grant me the