Anger, Anxiety, Emotions, Fear, Health, Illness, Stress

Michelle’s Story: Serving God through Persistent Pain

“Who made you boss of everyone!?” she asked me on the first-grade playground at recess.   

My type-A approach to life started almost 45 years ago, and from there I grew into a strong, resilient, persevering woman who gets stuff done—until my 20s, when debilitating, persistent migraines, gut issues, and an absurdly long list of food intolerances laid their permanent stake in my body.  I’ve seen doctors and alternative specialists, and have tried a fair share of treatments. Some help for a time, but this resilient body adapts and the fixes stop fixing. This has been my reality for the better part of 25 years. Every few years I get frustrated with living without solutions and start over, seeking answers and/or treatments.  

I’m tired of the uncertainty of not knowing when a migraine will hit or when a food will unexpectedly cause problems that last for weeks. I’m frustrated with my limitations. Anxious about what to do or not do to get help. Afraid of losing the health I do have. Fed up with persevering and enduring. Like a race horse behind a gate, I’m antsy to get out there and run. But these physical limitations keep me behind the gate. They make business travel and presenting at meetings difficult and unfeasible, which creates a problem for a business consultant like me. My limitations also often interfere with church and ministry—it’s tough to worship, serve consistently, or lead a Bible study with a brain and body that go wonky without notice and for lengthy periods of time.  A broken body, stifled dreams, and a seeming inability to consistently and fully do the work He’s led me to hardly feel like my idea of a “doer’s” on-fire-for-God life.  

So, Who Is God in This? 

There it is. The big question in suffering and disappointment. But it’s the best and right question. Especially when there are no earthly answers or solutions to life’s challenges. 

For starters, God is God. The Bible uses the title “LORD” (all caps) 6,519 times in reference to God. It means “the self-existing one”. He is the only one who was before all things, and sustains Himself in the universe. He rules and reigns over the entire universe with sovereignty. That means when I feel like my dreams and my body are out of control, it isn’t true. God is sovereign over my life. 

He made me. Psalm 139:13 says “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” And since He created me in my mother’s womb, He knows precisely how every cell in my body works (or doesn’t work). He understands me and my body at a level no one else can.  

Since He made me, I am His.  My life is intended for His use and His glory. Romans 11:36 reminds me that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” That puts things in perspective—His glory is my purpose. My body is a gift from Him, I live in it daily through Him, and any accomplishments or glory that come from my existence are for Him—not for me.  

My Struggle with Sin 

I’m currently in the middle of an episode of migraine, intense nausea, dizziness, wild brain overstimulation, and extreme fatigue. And discontent is raging loud. I’m discontent with having to turn around shortly after starting to hike in the woods with my husband (“I should be able to be outside just like everyone else!”).  I’m discontent with feeling like a blood pressure cuff is squeezing my head for hours on end, and the throbbing pain in my teeth and gums that wakes me in the middle of the night (“I’m tired of this pain, Lord!”). I’m envious that my friends don’t have to deal with this stuff in their lives (“Why can’t my health be better, like hers or hers?”). I’m angry that this is the third episode of multi-day/week migraines I’ve had in the last four months (“How am I supposed to work tomorrow? I want to use my gifts, and I need my brain for that!”). In the end, if I’m really honest, I’m discontent with God (“Why won’t you stop this? I thought my life was going to be on fire for you!”). 

I generally don’t give thanks in circumstances like these (1 Thessalonians 5:18)—I resent them. I don’t count it all joy when these difficult weeks sink in—I count it all a hassle. I don’t like the testing of my steadfast faith (James 1:2–4); I like ease of life. I think I know what the Sovereign LORD God should do (heal me and let me charge past this horse gate, full speed ahead!), and what’s best for me (a life with few physical challenges so I can fully use the gifts He’s given me to make a difference in the world). And, like that bossy mini-me on the playground, when I get really angry, I tell Him so—with less than utmost respect for His position. It’s tough to admit to that. But it’s true. I think I should be the boss of my life. 

How Does Christ Come into the Picture?  

John 1:1 tells me “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Jesus Christ is the Word. He’s been here since the beginning. So, He’s always been in the picture. He’s in this hot physical mess I’m in right now. If God is the eternal one, and Jesus was with God, it’s fair to say Jesus was there when God created me. He understands my body far more than I do. He is worthy of praise because He is in every moment of my life.   

Jesus is my Savior—the one who bought my eternal salvation by His death on the cross. 1 Peter 2:24 is astounding! “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” Jesus died for my sin of bossy discontent. He took the necessary punishment of my response to this episode, and through Him I have redemption and forgiveness for my sins (Ephesians 1:7). 

Jesus is healing my soul. He’s the one who rose from the dead, securing my earthly hope and eternal future in heaven. 1 Peter 1:3 says “He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I may be living with this broken body, but my soul has been given new birth through Christ! 

Jesus’ body was wounded and He died on the cross for my sins. He understands physical suffering in a way I never will. His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead are what secure my eternal future in heaven with God. I may not experience physical healing on this earth, but my belief in His sacrificial death grants me access to God, and His word says I’ll be healed in heaven. 

How Do I Respond?   

Deep down, below the loud noise of trials and challenges, I know that God’s “no” to earthly physical healing or consistent medical solutions creates an opportunity for deeper spiritual growth in me. Much easier said than done, but true nonetheless. The root of this isn’t about changing my circumstances.  It’s about changing me to be more like Christ. 1 Peter 2:21 makes it clear. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 

Confessing my discontent is one response in the right direction. To confess is simply to agree with God that what I’ve done goes against His word and/or His will. King David wrote about confession in Psalm 32:5 “I acknowledged my sin to You…and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” So, I apologize for telling God how He should handle my body and my dream for how my life should be, for my pity party of one that stems from focusing on circumstances instead of the one who sustains me in them, and for resenting the gift of health He’s given to other people.  

Encouraging others is another response in the right direction. For me, that looks like sending handmade cards and scripture to friends, colleagues, church members, clients, and family. Cards I often make when my body isn’t happy, but my heart is tuned to suffering. It gets my mind into God’s word, and onto the lifting up of others.  

And, I try to rest in the truth that Christ is the ultimate doer. His perfect life, His grace-based death on the cross for my sins, and His resurrection from the dead provided everything necessary to secure my eternal future in heaven. And that drives me to want to release my earthly expectations, demands, and hang-ups to Him and trust him with what lies ahead. By His grace, I can endure challenges and refocus my mind on Him.    

The Lord has brought that little boss-lady on the playground a long way. I’m still a type-A “doer,” but I’m slowly learning to let Him define what my on-fire-for-God life looks like. I know that He is everything I need. Psalm 73:25-26 says it best: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing that I desire on earth besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 

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