I have endured a chronic illness since 1998. At times this illness has forced me to stop almost everything I thought I needed to do. This has been true at different various stages of my life since age 49. Last week I had to cancel a number of appointments and once again found this terribly hard to do. Saying "no" is a very hard thing for me to do. (I think this is a major flaw, not a heroic tendency in any sense of the word.)

I believe some people need to say "no" much more often in order to get to "yes." I am one such person. Maybe you can identify with me in some way. I am a people person, thus I like to get people’s appreciation, and I long to hear "well done" from my peers. I feel the sting of deeply personal opposition when I get it, which is sometimes quite often since I am a public person with public views. 

I reflected deeply upon these personal issues over the days of Lent. I am profoundly impressed that I need to work very hard at not allowing my illness to define who I am or how I think about myself. I am not a "sick" person, but God’s child. I am to live my life with joy one day at a time under his grace and as fully as he has apportioned me strength for that one day. This is not heroic, just wise. I have not been wise and thus I have often defined myself, both to myself and to others, by my illness. I am praying that I will stop doing this more and more in the months ahead.

Someone asked me this evening, at a funeral visitation for a mutual friend, "How are you?" I knew they meant physically but I answered, "You know I am doing well, not in every way, but I am learning to live today by grace and not to take tomorrow, or my health (good or bad), for granted." I cannot change some things. I can change how I respond to these things.

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  1. Helen April 10, 2007 at 9:43 am

    John, the specifics are different for me but I understand the challenge and struggle not to be defined by an illness which nevertheless does impose real constraints on how we live.
    I’m never completely sure whether I’m ‘making excuses’ or appropriately factoring mine in.
    Maybe that’s why I was quite shaken when a pastor (not one who has ever been my senior pastor) asserted to me that I _was_ making excuses, last year.
    It took me a few days to recover and realize that it makes no sense to pay attention to the comments of someone who probably has no idea what it’s like. If I, with my first-hand knowledge and experience, have trouble figuring out where that line is, it’s very unlikely he would _know_.
    I hope you will find that people are respectful of the constraints your illness places on you and that if anything, they help you by encouraging you to say no when you need to. Rather than expecting more than you can manage, for reasons beyond your control.

  2. jls April 10, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Those of us who are not (yet) suffering from major physical infirmities can only pray for you, that God will give you all the necessary strength and wisdom to do all that he has truly called you to do. Through this post, I realized that I cannot let my apparent health define how I think about myself. If anyone thinks that, because he can do a few things that earn the appreciation of peers, he is not profoundly sick and limited by his sinful nature, he simply does not know the holiness of God. People compare themselves to other people way too much. It completely distorts our self image.
    John, we are still amazed at how much you are doing

  3. boyneboy April 10, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Sounds like you are following Paul’s advice regarding his “thorn in the flesh”. I’m not into saying that God is going out of his way to inflict suffering on people but that Jesus always walks with us in the midst of our suffering and limitations and creates something new out of it in the end.
    My own experience is that I keep running into that line every few years, where I have nothing left to give or my own limitations become a brick wall. Yet God speaks, sends helpers, and my balance and perspective are restored, even if the body isn’t.
    My prayers are with you as we walk the journey of faith together.

  4. Bob Myers April 10, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    What a great way to answer that question. An answer that in this fallen world is true for all of us.
    Your ministry is deeply appreciated by many of us pastors, and I find myself challenged and provoked by your writing. I will pray for continued grace and Lord willing physical relief as well for you.
    Bob Myers

  5. John H. Armstrong April 10, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    The kindness of the these several comments amazes me, but then I am quite sure that it should not. There are a lot more “good” people who try to understand others in love than there are the opposite, at least among authentic and faithful Christ-followers. Thanks to each of you who comment and to all who do not write but offer prayers faithfully. I am loved and thankful for so many who care about anything I have to write or say. I am feeling shut up to God and that is a good thing, a very good thing!

  6. jco April 10, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    This post and the responding comments brought tears to my eyes. Thank God for using you to encourage and strengthen so many people. I have always believed that struggles and pain in my own life have brought me closer to God, and have also allowed me to feel deeper compassion towards others who are suffering. Thank you for sharing such a personal post, one that strikes a chord with many of us. You are in my prayers!

  7. P. Andrew Sandlin April 12, 2007 at 1:02 am

    What a transparent, humble – and wise – course of action.
    It’s a privilege to have you as a friend.

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