It is easy to focus on the negative side of chronic illness – the pain, isolation and shattered dreams – and forget that not everything about chronic illness is bad (ninety-nine per cent of it is bad, but even at the worst of times there are moments of genuine beauty, kindness and joy that are all too easily overlooked).
After two years spent bedridden in a darkened room, there came a day when my symptoms eased enough for me to sit propped up on pillows with the curtains drawn. It was a beautiful spring day, and the breeze from the open window ruffled my hair as the sun warmed my face. For a few brief minutes before my symptoms forced me back into darkened solitude, I thought of working friends sat in their offices staring at computer-screens and realised that for the first time in several years, I wouldn’t have swapped places with any of them. Had I not been sick, I too would have been working that day missing out on the sunshine, just as I would have missed the magnificent swan that appeared in the garden a few weeks later, or the cat that got stuck trying to climb in my window, or the baby that took her first steps on the communal lawn to rapturous applause.
There have been so many times I have wanted to give up; times when the pain was so bad I felt that I couldn’t go on, but there have been times of genuine joy as well. These moments may be few and far between but they are all the more precious for it.
Joy is often most evident in the ordinary. It is found even in circumstances as limited as mine. In March daffodils bloomed outside my window, in May blossom fell from the trees like snowflakes, at this moment birds are singing in the garden; these things would still have been there without my illness, but would I ever have noticed them in all my busyness?
I am often so preoccupied with looking for a full-blown miracle that I fail to notice God’s involvement in my everyday life. It is so easy to look at my pre-illness life through rose-tinted glasses and think that if I could just have back the things I’ve lost (that other people have) it would be easy to be joyful. But was I really more joyful before my illness, or did I take the things that I had for granted?
Would health and wealth, independence and mobility ever really be enough to make me happy? Or would I grumble and complain and still feel bored and lonely despite these things?
Perhaps joy is simply a matter of perspective.
Perhaps thankfulness is something we all need to work at.
Perhaps sad things can be beautiful, in the same way that happy things can make us cry.
Without my illness this blog would not exist. I would not have time to listen to narrow-boats on the canal, or bicycle bells in the lane. I would not know the reassuring sound of trains passing in the small hours of the night when pain and sleeplessness make me feel like the last person alive.
Without my illness I would not have met many of the people I have met or experienced the many kindnesses they have offered me. I would not have learned about the obstacles and injustices within the welfare system, or feel drawn to find ways to tackle the prejudice that still exists towards disabled people. I would still hold many of the same stereotypes about ME sufferers that people now hold about me.
These things do not change the pain that I am suffering. They cannot replace the friends that I’ve lost or the career and independence that are denied me, but they at least go some way towards redeeming it.
This is not the life I would have chosen but that does not make it a lesser one. Life is smaller now but there is peace within the smallness. I tread a harder path than the one I dreamed of, but it is all the more worthwhile for its costliness.
I don’t yet know what good God is bringing out of these circumstances, (it is still too soon to tell) but I am thankful for a redeemer who brings beauty from my brokenness.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10
(NIV electronic edition, 2004)
Over to you:
Are you ever too busy or too broken to see beauty in your circumstances?
Have good things come out of circumstances you wouldn’t have chosen?
What moments of beauty have you noticed in the ordinariness of everyday life?