I can’t remember when the last time I cried in public was, but that day I did.
As I sat within a toilet cubicle in a mall, the tears flowed despite my attempts to hold them back. At that moment, the diagnosis and reality of life to come was just too much to bear.
I had just been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). It’s a form of inflammatory, painful arthritis that mainly affects the lower back and spinal joints. However, other joints such as the knee, hip, ribs and small joints of the hands and feet can also be affected.
I didn’t think I would struggle so badly with mental and physical pain later in life.
I was a combat medic back during my national service days. Pain wasn’t foreign to me because we stuck needles in one another as part of training, and also went through exercises that were very physically demanding. So pain was not unfamiliar to me, and my tolerance for it had only grown since then.
I also grew up witnessing how cancer tore both my grandparents and extended family apart. Having walked out of that painful experience as a child, seeing how God used that trial to mould and refine my character and faith, I didn’t think I would struggle so badly with mental and physical pain later in life.
But this was different. Despite having built up a high threshold for pain, I struggled greatly with the symptoms of AS both physically and emotionally.
I began to experience intermittent back and joint stiffness and pain, especially during the night when I wanted to sleep.
I never really had issues sleeping – but AS changed everything. I’ve had many uncomfortable nights where I just I toss and turn in pain trying to find a comfortable position to rest in. My right knee was the first to swell, then AS began attacking my left knee, upper and lower back as well as my right ankle. That meant my mobility was compromised.
On good days, though there’s still some swelling, I can still walk with some manageable discomfort. But my bad days look like struggling to even get out of bed – having to limp and hold on to hand-railings in total weakness and helplessness.
Now, I’m a big fan of the TV series Flash, so you can imagine my disappointment and discouragement when AS took my “speed” away. I was even told that I may no longer be able to play football again.
Having lost my footing both literally and figuratively, I had to wrestle through the ravaging effects of AS. But through this journey, God brought me to confront certain realities that the condition surfaced for me.
I had to confront reality. For the first time in my life, I saw what remained when everything was stripped away.
This incurable autoimmune condition stripped me of all the security and plans I had held on to. In my journey with AS, there are no fixed outcomes or certainties that I can grasp with absolute certainty.
Like Israel in the wilderness I had to learn daily dependence and obedience. By faith, I collect my manna every day – neither too much nor too little. I simply collect enough for the day. And the next day the cycle repeats.
The only certainties I could hold on to were God’s promises in His Word. Without God, there would not have been any manna in the mornings – no reason to go on. Certainty was and is found solely in God and nothing else.
Christ promises that my eternal home will have no tears, death, mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4).
As the Israelites went out each morning and gathered as much as they need, “whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (Exodus 16:18).” When all was stripped away in that barren land, what remained were men who had to confront the realities of their inadequacies and weaknesses – and choose if they would acknowledge their need for God and trust in Him.
In the face of massive need and uncertainty, Christ was more than enough for them. He will never change, so He is more than enough for me, and is more than enough for all of us today.
So the comforting reality for all of us is that God is more than enough.
Pain is common to all men, and many times it is even necessary to shatter the illusion of control and false security. After all, Jesus didn’t promise the absence of pain and trials in this life.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Though there’s sure to trouble in this world, we can be comforted and sure that our Almighty God has overcome all things and offers His peace to us. God’s comfort comes to us when we cling on to His Word and promises and most importantly – Himself.
It brings me comfort knowing that the one in whom I have chosen to place my hope, faith and trust in is one who has already secured the greatest victory. While I might still be assaulted with pain on this side of eternity, Christ promises that my eternal home will have no tears, death, mourning or pain (Revelation 21:4).
Even amidst pain and uncertainty, I have this great promise of absolute peace and provision in Christ – a blessed assurance indeed.
We can be confident in the knowledge that God is sovereign and in control over all things.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so it is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)
God is sovereign – I am not. He knows, sees and acts from Heaven. By my worldly understanding, I will never fully understand how God works. But I know He works for my good as I love Him.
So I’ve focused on the things I need to understand and be sure of. In moments of incomprehension and confusion, I remind myself that God is all-knowing and nothing takes Him by surprise. He will accomplish everything He desires and purposes.
In my weakness and fragility, I know that God is all-powerful and in His limitless power He promises to orchestrate all things for our good in His beautiful and perfect time. Whenever I struggle to see and feel Him, I know in my heart that God is all-present and is always there for me as my Comforter and Rock of Refuge.
As I dried my tears in the cubicle, I resolved in my heart not to let this condition tear me down. Then I took out my phone to put down some words from my heart.
Though I don’t have everything under control, Christ has given me a hope so enduring, firm and stable that no ravaging circumstance or pain can ever take my peace away.
Behind these words was a heart secure in God’s promises. I remembered 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Philippians 4:4-7, Job 1:21, Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – perspectives and promises to anchor me in the love of Christ.
… I’ve lost my ability to kneel, but may God see the humble posture of my heart as I daily trudge towards His throne of grace with my prayer and petitions.
Even as I type this I still feel the physical pain and discomfort of my condition. But the verses from Philippians and 1 Thessalonians reminds me of the heavenly perspective that I need to gird my heart and mind with.
It is difficult to find joy when pain and emotions cloud my mind, but I will learn to be joyful always, for joy is not based on circumstances but on my Saviour present in all circumstances. So it is still possible to be joyful in difficult seasons.
It is difficult to pray unceasingly when my problems seem bigger than God’s promises. During this period, I’ve lost my ability to kneel, but may God see the humble posture of my heart as I daily trudge towards His throne of grace with my prayer and petitions – acknowledging my human weaknesses and His Lordship over my life.
It is difficult to give thanks when we have been given trials and tests instead of trophies. But I am learning to daily declare like Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And may Romans 8:28 always hold me fast.
Son, I work all things for your good. Trust my heart and leading. You’ll be just fine.
Though outwardly I am wasting away, God is using my trials to renew me inwardly. He is working for my sanctification and His glory – drawing me ever closer to Him.
“Amidst the pain, renew us Lord!” May this be the cry and hope of all who are journeying through a season of pain,