Coping with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a Daily Reality Check

John ArmstrongChronic Fatigue Syndrome, Personal

CFS Some have encouraged me to not talk openly about my struggle with CFS. Their intentions are right. They suggest that many people will not understand and that some might even conclude that my ministry is finished because of this illness. This will not inspire donors to support a work led by a sick person. These are all reasonable points. But I have chosen to err on the side of candor, hoping to serve some who struggle with chronic illness and to invite prayer and support while I press on in this wonderful work of “equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s mission” (The purpose statement of ACT 3.)

The truth is that I am still more active than a lot of people my age. But I do struggle every single day to remain as active and healthy as possible. The most important part of my health regimen is to take breaks, find ways to refresh my body, mind and soul, and to engage in activities that build me up. I am, in this instance, often my own worst enemy since I have always been an active over-achiever in personality. This is because of my lack of understanding about the inner life combined with my God-given ability. But God has taught me again and again that "his strength is [being] perfected in my weakness.” For this I am, at least on most days, filled with thanks.

While various CFS advocacy groups battle in public I choose to privately bear the burdens I have been given and ask God to help me do so as well as possible. The fact is that many of you, my dear friends, have helped me far more than you know. You do not need a detailed account of my health when you ask me, “How are you doing?” I can give a short answer and know that you care and that you remember to pray for me.

I do not believe illness is a good thing. I would much prefer to be completely well. I believe God still heals in his own time and way. I am not sure that a cure for CFS will be found in my lifetime thus I no longer have great hope for that cure. (If it comes then that is wonderful but in the meantime I want to live well with what I have to deal with day-by-day.) I do know that Christ is my companion and that with him in me, beside me, behind me and ahead of me I can face tomorrow. This has allowed me to find great peace.

The person who has the most to deal with in regards to this illness is my wife. She sees me at my best and my worst. She gets my emotional weakness and my lack of patience. She sees when I am down and she knows how things work with this illness and my coping, or lack of coping, with its harsh implications. Anita is the best I could hope for in this context and shows me great love and encouragement.

So, what does this mean for my ministry? It means things like the following:

1. I must pace myself and allow for breaks during the day and for whole days. Things like a baseball game become a huge blessing in the warm months.

2. I must travel in a smarter way. I am grateful that I can still travel but I must find quiet places to rest and recover when I do. My first overseas trip in 12 years was the March 6-15 trip to Rome.

3. I must trust God each day in a new way with my well-being. He never fails me.

4. I can still see people in person, serve leaders one-on-one, and write. In fact, I believe I can write even more if I am smarter and wiser about this. I believe God uses this illness to keep me home more and thus I can write more than I otherwise. would

5. I can still teach a class, just not as many and as often as I once did. I love teaching and mentoring students and will still do what I can in this area.

6. I preach a lot less than I did a few years ago and choose my preaching dates more carefully.

Whether this illness is a retrovirus or not I am really unsure. Whether or not we can ever explain it I am sure that I have it. Whatever caused it I have no earthly idea. I am done “beating myself up” about the past. God is gracious and good. I believe that regardless of my past or future. Chronic illness is not fun. But by his grace I have found that I can cope and somehow, not always triumphantly, I can live freely in his love and grace. Blessed be the name of the Lord!