Sad Things can be Beautiful

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?

This entry was posted in Faith, Hidden Disability, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Sad Things can be Beautiful

  1. Sarah's mum says:

    Would we ever have spent time on the shore at Hest Bank watching the sun go down, listening to the birds and eating fish and chips if you had not been ill, I wonder?

    • Probably not anywhere near as often, and it certainly wouldn’t mean as much if we did. As the first place I went after being bedridden so long it may just be my favourite place in the whole world.

  2. quiall says:

    your words are a testament to the incredible character you possess. I too had an epiphany with my MS. I am a better person now, more aware of my surroundings . Everyone should heed your words, not just those with a disability.

  3. triciaruth says:

    If I hadn’t been ill I may well still be working in the rat-race in an industry that uses up every last ounce of you and then throws you to the dogs when they have taken all the can. Now I am running my own business, working with clients who appreciate me and the benefits I bring to their business as well as meeting new and interesting people along the way.

    • Learning to rethink your priorities is often one of the hardest but most valuable consequences of chronic illness. Until illness stops you in your tracks it is so easy to blindly accept what we think society expects of us even if it is detrimental to our own wellbeing. I’m glad your own experience of illness has led to something so positive.

  4. rejoicinginadversity says:

    Greetings from America! I enjoyed your post, as I, too, have been searching for the diamonds in the dark of chronic health issues, including CFIDS.

  5. Rebecca says:

    “Perhaps sad things can be beautiful, in the same way that happy things can make us cry.”
    Oh how this statement can change everything. The sad and painful things can be beautiful. A lesson I am learning and so blessed by your honest, real, yet hope filled response. Yesterday I was talking to a health coach, as I too am struggling with CFS, and she said something that made me smile. She said that “we need to seek joy and pleasure. Being sick isn’t void of those things.”
    Rather like you mentioned, if we change our perspective from the focus on complete miraculous healing to the everyday, we can find beauty and meet God.
    Thank you.

  6. SheRamblings says:

    thank you for sharing the joy you’ve found in the midst of your pain. …and I, too, believe that joy is dependent upon one’s perspective.

  7. sarsrose says:

    Oh gosh, this hurts me to read. But isn’t that so human! To see pain and instantly want it gone? Not that that is wrong, but I’m so glad that God has been working that miracle in your life to help you discover joy that transcends circumstance.

  8. I absolutely love this post! You’re so strong and such an inspiration! Pain has certainly made me see life differently, when I feel well enough to do things, even little things, I appreciate them SO much more now!

    Just wanted to let you know I really love your blog and I’ve nominated you for the versatile blogger award over on my blog 🙂

    Have a wonderful day,

    Chrissy xx

  9. I feel exactly the same way you do.
    A lot of negativity is created in my mind when I think about the things I can no longer do, but because of my MS I have become more relaxed. In my laid back state I have became a nicer person and I can see things for how they truly are.
    There are a lot of people who create illnesses in their head and believe they are suffering from some unknown problem, but the minute that there is something interesting and fun that they want to do all of a sudden they are perfectly fine. Now maybe that is a mental illness all in its own, but because of the state I am in, it makes me wonder why people just can’t be happy.
    Great post!

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