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Chronic Illness - Chronic Pain Articles Available to Read and Reprint

Reaching for God's Yoke

By Lisa Copen

In 1993, I attended a support group meeting where I expected encouragement and hope. I left feeling disillusioned because what I found was a place of desperation, disappointment and discouragement. Living with rheumatoid arthritis was not going to be easy. At the age of 24, I went from feeling happy and healthy to fearing the future and barely being able to walk. I experienced all of these emotions within a three-week period. I searched my local Christian bookstore for advice on how to stay hopeful but also how to keep the faith whether I was healed or not. But the subject of chronic illness was not addressed. Was I the only one who hadn't been healed?

Step ahead to the year 2002 with me. I still have not been healed. I still struggle to stand some days, today being one of them. I find that walking has it's own difficulties. Simple things like washing my hair may come with ease or with much trouble. Like you, there is no way to predict how my body will feel when I wake up in the morning. Last year, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia and between the two illnesses, I understand that waking-up feeling of "Did I just get hit by a truck?"

Living with chronic illness is not easy. It's daily. It's distancing and sometimes it can be discouraging. We hurt. We feel harassed. We harden our hearts. Only by knowing God can we be what we were meant to be. I say this because I am a Christian and I know that I never would have made it through this crisis without my faith. In 1997, I began Rest Ministries, a Christian organization that serves people who live with chronic illness or pain. I saw too many people who were hurting and searching for hope-somewhere, anywhere, and still feeling empty. Living with physical pain is a daily challenge but it's the emotional aches that hurt us most of all. "A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear" (Proverbs 18:14).

Some of us have been supported and loved by our friends and families. Many of us have not been as fortunate. Many of us have been told, "If you had enough faith you'd be healed" or "Maybe if you just prayed about it some more." If this is what faith is about, why is it so necessary?

There are dozens of recently published research studies that explain how attending church will lower your blood pressure, extend your life, help you recover from surgery faster, and even view your illness as less painful than it is. We can scientifically prove that faith helps. But my heart and friends remind me daily that we don't believe because of a study. We believe because with Jesus our burden is light.

Rest Ministries started with a simple newsletter called, …And He Will Give You Rest, which soon thereafter expanded into Rest Ministries, Inc. Why "rest?" I was given many opinions from colleagues and people with marketing experience about my choice of title. They suggested we call the newsletter "Chronic Illness something-or-other" or describe it by saying that we serve the chronically ill. (We emphasize that we serve people who live with chronic illness or pain.) There is more to us than our illness! What do we really want though? We want rest! We want to be reminded that we can drop our burdens, disappointments, heartaches and fears of the future. We want to lay down our need to succeed as well as the guilt and frustration over faltering relationships.

We want to know that we can pack up our worries about finances, our concerns about parenting, and our ability to care for our parents. For God tells us "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).

When people ask me what fibromyalgia feels like, I describe my pain by saying the following: "A simple pat feels like a baseball hitting me," a constant sunburn, or that I often feel as though "I have a fifty pound child sitting on my shoulder with his legs wrapped tightly around my neck" . I recently thought about how this relates to the following verses. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:29,30). Stop. Go back and read that verse again. Does this not sound wonderful? Rest for our souls!

Each of us is carrying a yoke on our shoulders right now. Perhaps it is the stress of that overdue bill and wondering how we are going to pay it. Maybe it's because as we lay awake at 4 a.m. this morning, we wondered if we were going to be able to make it through this life if we continued to feel so poorly. A few weeks ago at a fibromyalgia conference, a young girl sitting near me shared her story with me. She said that her dad had just told her that he wanted to discontinue all contact with her until she stopped being a hypochondriac.

The world tells us that they can heal our ills. They tell us that if we eat better, try harder, and drink more water we will be healed. They show us commercials where one ibuprofen tablet gives one back his or her life. I tend to yell at the television every time one pharmaceutical commercial comes on that says, "Life is good, if you have your health." Life can still be good! Life can still be worth living. Why? Because if we take our worries and our bruised heart to Him, he will mend it. However, we must discard the yoke of the world before we can accept rest for our souls that Jesus' yoke provides unconditionally.

It's hard not to be skeptical. Perhaps it's been a long time since we have thought about God. Perhaps, we still think about praying but we just can't get down on our knees anymore to do it properly, so we put it off. Instead, we run to the store and we buy scented candles. We put our faith in an herbal bath. We accept the yoke of the world by spending money and time on things that promise to bring us rest for our souls. We watch daytime talk shows that present moments of "spirituality" and we believe that if we are "spiritual enough" we have found peace. But then we wait… and peace doesn't come. We wonder what we did wrong. All of those self-help books and "coping with chronic illness" books tell us that to maintain a positive outlook and live the best life, we must buy rest for our souls. It's not in a bottle, however, but in the Book.

It is there for free if we just ask. We all qualify and there are no forms to fill out, tests to pass, insurance claims to file, or balance due. Warm baths and hot tea can be a blessing. Hot tubs can be a lifesaver. Friends and family who care about us can feel like our personal angels here on earth. But someday it's all going to disappoint us. Only Christ can give us the rest and the peace that we really crave.

If you are searching for answers about what this faith is all about or have been a Christian for years, I am sure that you will find a warm, comforting place at Rest Ministries. You can talk about what you are going through with people who are on this same journey. Daily devotionals also offer a great way to start off those painful mornings. I invite you to come and find rest for your soul. I know that the next time I feel like a child is sitting on my shoulders, I'm going to remember to ask again for that lighter yoke that is there for the asking.

Lisa Copen is the founder and director of Rest Ministries. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is the author of When Chronic Illness Enters Your Life Bible Study.

Reprinted from ...And He Will Give You Rest
monthly support newsletter, Volume 5, Issue 5. ©





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