How Faith and Chronic Illness Has Led Me To Set Healthy Boundaries and Stop People Pleasing.
I've recently been dwelling on finding the positives in my life with chronic illness. I've been asking myself questions like, "How has chronic illness and suffering revealed sin and idols in my heart? Has my faith in God grown? What am I learning from this season?" I wanted to be authentic with this today because I feel that I may not be the only one who is walking this walk.
I took the picture below from my front deck early one morning before the snow rolled in and I wanted to share it with you guys. It’s so peaceful and beautiful.
Okay, so here we go........
HOW CHRONIC ILLNESS IS BUILDING MY FAITH IN GOD:
Before I became sick, I was slightly a control freak. I admit it. I had my whole day and life planned out. I had a set daily routine. I got up at 3am in the morning, five days a week. I would be at work at 4:45 am. Grant it I was always running late. And when I say running, I literally mean that I ran to make it to the time clock. Some mornings, I would be running and my six bottles of water, that I had brought to last me through my shift, would fall out of my bag and fly all over the parking lot. Here I would go chasing water bottles through the parking lot while the other nurses would be laughing at me and cheering me to hurry along. Where I worked, there where cameras in the parking lot and cameras at security check points. I imagine whoever watched those surveillance cameras got a laugh out of seeing me run from checkpoint to checkpoint every morning chasing water bottles (How embarrassing). I always have a fear that one day, I will see myself on YouTube, titled "The girl who was always running late." Anyways, on with the story. At work, I always had a certain way and timeframe that I liked to do things. I was a perfectionist whose work never turned out perfect. I was way harder on myself than anyone else ever was. On my lunch break, I never really wanted to sit down. I would go walking or to the gym at my workplace and exercise. When I got off work, I would grocery shop or run errands. I would then go home, cook and attend whatever ball games my daughter had going at the time. Then my husband and I would chill together on the couch, watch television or read until bedtime. This was basically my daily routine. This seems to be the normal for most people. We get so used to our routine, that we don't know what to do when something disrupts it. We almost glorify busyness. At that time, I was able to choose the when, where and hows of all the details in my life. But when chronic illness hit, I had no say or control of anything that was happening in my life. All control and busyness came to an abrupt stop. I found myself wondering, If my body won't go how will I provide for my family? I had always believed that I had great faith but when I became ill, reality smacked me right in the face. My faith wasn't as big as I had thought it was. In the past I was mostly confident in "my own" ability to keep things going, dressed up on the outside to look like I was confident in God's ability. And although God had given me a small measure of faith, (that I'm sure was smaller than a mustard seed) he has been merciful enough to give me more faith through this journey. I've come to rely more on God to provide for me and my family and not so much on myself and my own abilities. My husband and I thought we might lose everything when I became sick, but we haven't lost a thing. Our bills have always gotten paid and we have never once went hungry. Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of nights eating hot dogs and spam sandwiches. There have been many humbling times of just thanking God for providing. Chronic illness has shown me just how little control that I have over my own life. God truly is the provider, the comforter, the healer and the Almighty.
HOW CHRONIC ILLNESS AND A SEASON OF DEPRESSION PUSHED ME FURTHER INTO GOD'S WORD AND DEEPER INTO GOD'S ARMS:
When chronic illness came to disrupt my life, for the first few months I felt what was described in the Bible as downcast. I was like King David and for months I wrote in my journal my own psalms to the Lord, filled full of tears, praise, fears and prayers. I didn't want to believe it at the time but now looking back, I went through a time of depression that I only shared with the Lord in my prayer time. People tend to look at depression as always being a negative thing but for me, this was a time in which it brought me into a more intimate relationship with God and his Word. The Psalms and the book of Job became life and healing. Every Word was like salve for my wounds. It was comforting to see how many of God's people from the Bible walked through loss and depression. It was only a season for them and I also found it to be only a season for me. I could relate to God's Word and it brought so much comfort to the heaviness I was experiencing. This season of depression became a school for me to learn how to fight with God's Word. This is where I began to learn how to take my thoughts captive. This painful season became a season of learning and I'm so thankful looking back. This is the place where I fell in love with God's Word deeper than ever and I knew I could trust Him with all of the seasons of my life. This hard season hasn't been wasted. God is showing me how to not let the cares of this world distract my attention from Him. The more I’ve worshipped, the more focused I’ve become on Christ and knowing more of Him. The cares and the weight of chronic illness don't seem so heavy anymore.
CHRONIC ILLNESS HAS REVEALED THE IDOLS OF MY HEART:
I have a INFJ/INFP personality. I’m not sure how my test results fluctuate, since INFJs and INFPs clearly have many different characteristics. However, they also have many similar characteristics. At the end of my personality test the explanation it gives me is that sometimes, I'm 51% perceiving and sometimes I'm 51% Judging. I personally think I show more INFP traits. I’m definitely more messy than I am organized. With my personality type I struggle with certain weaknesses. I'm an introvert, which means I love to socialize but I need more time away from people to recharge than an extrovert would. INFJs are the rarest personality type (2%) and INFPs are not as rare but still only account for 4% of the world population. Often times, our way of thinking is misunderstood by others around us. We have some really wonderful character traits, however, we also have some not so wonderful weaknesses and tendencies toward certain sin.
For one, I feel my emotions deeply and can often deeply feel the emotions of others around me. I have a strong and authentic desire to help and advocate for others. This is a great characteristic to have, although it can also become a stumbling block if used in the wrong way. If I don't set healthy boundaries I can find myself trying to people please. I can find myself becoming co-dependent and doing things to please others instead of doing what's pleasing to God. In the past, I would give and give of myself but when I didn’t get the gratitude that I thought I should be given back in return, I was hurt. When that person took and took, I once again was hurt. The problem wasn't that I was serving others because God calls us to serve others. The problem was an issue in my heart and a lack of healthy boundaries. When chronic illness took my ability to do and please others, I found that my self worth went down hill. But why? I was finding my self worth in my ability to do for others. Without even knowing it, my serving others had turned into people pleasing and had become a selfish, fleshy thing. I was feeding my flesh and pride by people pleasing. Since becoming ill I’ve come to find that my body could no longer keep up with my perfectionist demands or my desire to people please. I’ve had to learn to set healthy boundaries with myself and with others. Often times, I’ve had to say no to things I would’ve normally said yes to. It's been the hardest thing ever for me to learn, but God wanted to set me free from the bondage of people pleasing. God has called me to be a "people lover" not a "people pleaser". He wants my relationships with others to be healthy.
This quote from Oswald Chambers has been so helpful to me:
"But the chief motivation behind Paul's service was not love for others but love for his Lord. If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and broken-hearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people. But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
Another sin that the Holy Spirit has revealed in my heart is offense. As an INFJ/INFP, I'm sensitive to criticism and other's opinions. Where as my husband has the opposite personality type. If someone criticizes him, he doesn't take it to the next level. I do, however. I will dwell and replay the criticism and dissect the conversation and try to figure out what the other person was really trying to say. Often times, I find myself thinking further into the conversation and drawing false conclusions that weren't intended. I would love to say that I'm constantly led by the Holy Spirit and have no struggles at all but that's far from the truth. I struggle daily. Often times, I've found myself in awe of others who don't struggle with this. I'm like wow, how do they do it with such ease, but then I realize that they have their own sin that they struggle with and it's not the same as mine. When you have a chronic "invisible" illness people can have lots of opinions or criticisms about what we should do or what we are not doing. It wasn't until I got sick that this sin in my heart was revealed to me. This is where God has been teaching me how to accept constructive criticism without taking offense and sinning. He is also teaching me how to address someone who is purposely giving hurtful criticism and how to know the difference between the two. Sometimes, we have to learn how to set healthy boundaries with people who purposely and consistently speak words of hurt. The best way that I’ve found to deal with this is by confronting the person with love and explaining how their words are hurtful. If they refuse to listen and continue to bring destructive words and behaviors into my life, this is where God is teaching me that I should always forgive but I don't always have to reconcile with this person. If I don't set boundaries with this person, I might continue to grow in bitterness and it will be harder for me to forgive. But if I set a healthy boundary that says, I love you but this is not okay, then I can protect love, forgiveness and even possibly repair our relationship. We, people pleasers, never like to say no or set boundaries with others. I've often times in the past thought saying no and having boundaries wasn't the "christian thing" to do, but through out God's Word he sets boundaries and he also expects us to set boundaries. We can set boundaries without having to be mean.
The things I see that people are hurt by the most when having a chronic illness is that others don't understand. This brings me to my last idol that the Holy Spirit has revealed in me since becoming ill. The sin of always needing people to understand. Chronic "invisible" illness has always been misunderstood and probably always will be. We, ourselves, can't even explain why we are bed bound and severely sick for months and then for 3 months we are back up halfway participating in life. Others truly wouldn't be able to understand it unless they have been through it themselves. Through chronic illness, God is teaching me that just as he extends grace and forgiveness to me day after day for all of my sin, that I am also called to extend it back to others. Sometimes, God will use the people who irritate us the most to soften our rough edges and pull out our own sin and lift the scales from our own eyes. Sometimes, only then, can we see our own sin and selfishness more clearly.
Here's another quote from Oswald Chambers that has been very helpful for me when I feel the need to explain myself to others:
"Another thing that distracts us is our passion for vindication. St. Augustine prayed, "O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself." Such a need for constant vindication destroys our soul's faith in God. Don't say, "I must explain myself," or, "I must get people to understand." Our Lord never explained anything - He left the misunderstandings of misconceptions of others to correct themselves." - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Here's the last quote that I want to share and it's powerful. Trust the process:
"Grapes must be crushed to make wine. Diamonds form under pressure. Olives are pressed to release oil. Seeds grow in darkness. Whenever you feel crushed, under pressure, pressed or in darkness, you're most likely in a powerful place of transformation. Trust God & trust the process." - Unknown
Feel free to leave a comment on how God is working in your own life.
You might also want to check out these other blog post about my journey through faith, chronic illness & the mental health side of coping with an illness:
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