When Guilt Becomes Your Primary Diagnosis

Chronic illness of any kind deals painful blows to our self-worth, none of which are deserving.  The longer I live, the more I realize how I have stacked pallets of guilt on pallets of shame and allowed them to sit heavy on the decaying foundation of my self-worth.  How many times have I let an employer, friend or loved one down?  How many times have I been a burden?  How many times have I let my health overshadow the joys in life?

How many times have I allowed the cancer of guilt to invade my healthy mind?

Regrets are real and have a healthy place when they are used to mend relationships fractured by the weight of our illness and the selfishness that sometimes occurs with such.  Let’s admit it,  we get selfish when we are sick.  It is necessary to seek forgiveness from both others and ourselves in order to move forward.  Chronic illness often prevents us from performing as we would like.  Our minds desire to do what our bodies refuse.  Now that my children are grown and I’m more reflectfull, (not a typo….I’m full of reflection at my age), it is so easy to become regretful over the amount of activities my illness and anxiety prevented me from.  I’m acutely aware my struggles overshadowed family times that should have been great fun, and for that, I am regretful;  however, I can not invite Regret to make a home in my heart.  Obsessing over Regret will open the door to Shame, and Shame ushers Guilt right on in.

Without realizing what has happened, Guilt, unchecked, can become our primary diagnosis.  Guilt has the ability to incapacitate us in emotional, relational and physical ways, and she is a sneaky, silent killer.

I felt the sting of Guilt’s nasty right hook just this morning when the side effects from a seizure medication change meant I was unable to get out of bed to make sure my special needs daughter did her therapeutic exercises.  Hubby had to be both Mom and Dad, again.  Score one for Guilt.

An unexpected jab hit when my husband wanted to pop into a restaurant for a quick bite to eat.   Key words here are “pop into” because you know how we anxious CIBS  (chronic illness buddies) hate to not have had the time to plan for every possible disastrous, yet highly unlikely scenario.  Really? C’mon, we need the time to worry, or it just can’t happen.  Can I get an Amen?!  So,  I stated in my irritated, flat voice that there was no way I could handle the sensory overload that was in that place.  Guilt sat in my lap as we ate our drive-through meal.

A couple of days later, Guilt left me bruised and in tears as I had to leave a reception after my sweet grand babies’ dance recital.  The lighting and sounds were firing up my brain waves resulting in a nice healthy aura, the kind that sends you fleeing in some kind of hyper state of flight or fight.

You know what I’m saying.  You hear the edge in your own voice.  You hear the cutting irritation directed at loved ones.  You make the same excuse for the millionth time, and you  feel the sting of shame.  Score another for Guilt.

If you have a story like mine,  many of you do, you went years with no answers but plenty of symptoms.  Like me, you may have been misdiagnosed…a few times.   That in and of itself leads to great anxiety, depression and dysfunction.  Perhaps, even NO function, as in bed, covers over head for days at a time. As if those aren’t enough,  we start to heap on shame as we weasel out of social events, responsibilities and commitments.  We are masters at disguising the fact we really are in no physical and/or mental shape to show up anyway.  This all too familiar scenario sets us up perfectly for Guilt to wage war on that eroding foundation of self-worth.  Hence, Guilt slides into number one spot as she eats away at us like acid on flesh.  She really is that destructive.  Guilt becomes the disease.

I intend to rob Guilt of the power she has stolen from me.

  Let’s break it down and choose to claim forgiveness for what has been, acceptance of what is and hope for what will be.

Guilt robs us of a few things.

  1. The ability to see the positive.  We are oh, so much more than our illnesses.  Let’s count the good moments and take them back from the hard grasp of Guilt.  Is Guilt stealing your joy?
  2. The ability to see our potential.  God created us to do great things! While it may look different from peers, it doesn’t mean our contributions to this world are any less valuable than our healthy counterparts.
  3. The ability to perceive truth.  We can easily transfer our own shameful view of ourselves to others.   We can easily tell ourselves we are failures when others do not see us in that light at all.  We can easily see ourselves as incapable when in fact, we are entirely able.  Are you seeing yourself as incapacitated?
  4. The ability to live in the present.  Guilt is the rock WE shackle to our ankles.  It drags us under the surface of this moment into the abyss of the past.  WE hold the key, Truth, to unlock the chains.  WE choose whether or not to swim to the surface of the here and now.

Let’s choose to kick the curable disease of Guilt.  Let’s choose to burn those pallets of regret and shame.  Let’s choose to use the key of Truth to unlock these chains.   I leave you with this:

…I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to live in FREEDOM!  Leviticus 26:13b (HCSB)

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The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy of Chronic Illness

If you don’t ask, I won’t tell. That sometimes becomes the easiest way to dance around being in relationship with the healthy while managing chronic illness.  

Please keep in mind that this article is written with the very broad spectrum of chronic illnesses in mind, from mental health issues to debilitating and degenerative diseases.  I’ve written this to both the one who struggles with illness and the one in relationship with him or her.

I had some surgery recently which was the result of one of those perfectly constructed domino displays where treating one problem lead to another to another. Now, I’m smack dab in the middle of missing my “this is working” treatment protocol thanks to one more falling domino. I didn’t tell people other than my family, a sweet lady from church who prayed me through it, and a close friend who happened to be on the receiving end of my “help” text, scooping up my child from school on one of the days where a quick recheck turned into a three hour doctor visit. I privately asked my pastor for prayer and gave him the date of the procedure, explaining I don’t share things on the prayer chain anymore because, honestly, it could be something every week.  

We must decide when and what is “big enough” to call in reinforcements. Doing that too often can cause our dignity to take a hit because no one wants to be the needy one, the reason for a sigh or roll of the eyes amongst friends, the “again?” burden.  

Most likely, the dear one reading this knows this scenario all too well; however, if you are outside of the chronic illness circle, you do not, will not, and should not (because we don’t wish this on anyone) truly understand the persistence of our illnesses or the ways it dictates our days.

This does present some challenges as we seek deep and intimate relationships with others. What do we share? When do we share? With whom do we share? How much detail do we share? How often do we share?

For those of us who are sidelined, social media can be this sweet connection with others in the outside world yet at the same time, awakens a longing for the normalcy our friends enjoy. Jealousy can easily creep in like the sneaky sin it is, as we read of shopping, travels, and schedules brimming with activities. She whispers, “Don’t you wish you could do that”? Judgement can raise her ugly fist when we read “woe is me” posts about passing and temporary illnesses. She shouts, “Are you kidding me, you don’t know how much you should be thankful that all you have is a sore throat, wake up”! Next, comes Resentment or Resignation, whichever you allow to take hold.  

For my fellow Cibs (chronic illness buddies) and those of you who rub shoulders with us, I want to propose that Resentment shows up loud, proud, and aggressive. She is in-your-face opinionated and speaks unapologetically in negative tones. She is angry at living a life she didn’t chose and has not yet embraced any beauty from her ashes. Her unresolved anger at God for allowing her suffering spills into her everyday relationships with fellow humans. She fights a losing battle, exhausting all of her limited emotional and physical resources, against a life lived with limitations she doesn’t want. Resentment is just plain stuck in the mud of self pity.
Resignation, on the other hand, is more composed…..quiet, actually. She has come to a place of acceptance. She may even be able to look for the hidden blessings in her situation and relish the relationship she is developing with the Lord that springs from trials. Healthy Resignation has to be true. It isn’t resignation if it pseudo acceptance.  That, my friends, is the sin of manipulation.

Pseudo acceptance is an act in Satan’s grand theatrical production. God sees through it, and you will never have peace just playing the role of a martyr to your illness.

Healthy Resignation speaks softly from a place of embracing the path God has allowed and trusting in His sweet promises every stony step of the way. Resignation is not superhuman, but she rests in the One who is.

So, back to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy…..yes, we are aware of the drain that sharing our daily battles would place on our relationship with healthy friends and family. When you ask how we are doing, we must immediately weigh out 1) Do you really want to know or are you being polite? 2) Would you understand the medical jargon I would need to explain it in? 3) Have I recently burdened you? 4) Is this the time or place for this conversation? 5) If I tell you the truth, will you pull away from me?  

Know that watching a friend or loved one with chronic illness withdraw may be their well-intentioned attempt to protect the relationship with you they find so precious. It may well speak to how highly they value your place in their life. 

 A tentative friend may be one who is longing to pour out her angst and discouragement to someone he or she loves (you) but when is enough, enough? Better to keep quiet than risk loss?

Breaking the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy takes bravery. It takes a brave friend to take the time to authentically ask, and on the flip side, it takes a brave friend to truthfully tell. No matter which side of the fence you are on, it is a lot to take on in this hurried, surface-skimming world.

 Time and vulnerability…..neither are as highly valued as they should be. Food for thought.

When God says No

What is your no?

Maybe a dream job?  A relationship?  A desired goal?  Maybe it’s that negative pregnancy test.  Maybe it’s the confirmation of disease  delivered in the hard words on a pathology report or bottom line of the MRI?   The slow shake of a doctor’s head?

No is never easy.  No angers us.  No disappoints us.  No devastates us.

Sometimes the reason for the No will show itself in time, and we are blessed by the insight and wisdom we gain through being able to capture the whole process in our minds.  We can see exactly why God said no and we are all about praising Him for working it out on our behalf.  Much of the time; however, the bigger plan for the greater good is cloaked and in this life, goes unrevealed.   Unrevealed because the beauty in the No would be lost on us.  It’s infinite, extraordinary, eternal and we are finite, ordinary, and so temporal.   Yes, it would be lost on us.

I would be amiss to not address what I will call the Consequential No.  We are sinful, “stiff-necked” people. We come from the original “don’t tell me no” folks.  Some of the No’s we get are a direct result of our poor choices and/or the sin of others. While God wants to lavish us with all things amazing, we continue to exercise our free will and that gets in the way.  Natural consequences in this natural world result in a hard, cold No!

This is not heaven and there will be injustice and heartache and plenty of No.  This is just our temporary home.

It’s the No that comes after prayer, seeking, searching….. The No that comes after we have been obedient to resign our desire to God’s will.  That’s the No that we mourn over.  The one we long to find understanding in.  We think if we can just find God’s reason, it will somehow be an easier pill to swallow.  That is the No we have to resolve before it dissolves our spiritual and emotional well-being.  So what do we do with this heavy-weighted No?

First, know this:

You’re not at war with No, you are at war with Acceptance.

Secondly:

The burden isn’t on God to provide you with detailed, palatable explanations. The burden is on you to eventually, after appropriately grieving the No, acquiesce.  Please hear my heart – There is a time for grief, for honest conversations with the Lord,  for torrents of tears, even for anger, but only a time.  Eventually, living in that state will destroy you.  

We have some options.  We can throw ourselves on the ground kicking and hitting like a 2 year old.  We can scream until our voices fail.  We can even bang our heads on the floor, but none of that changes the No.  What it does do is further hurt us and drag those in close proximity into the scalding heat of our rage.    After the ashes from the volcanic eruption settle, No is still No.

We can beg God.  Moses did.  He got one of those consequential No’s.  A devastating blow.  In an incident during his 40 years of leading the whiny, stubborn, demanding Israelites through war after war, hardship after hardship,  He disobeyed God, bringing glory to himself instead of the Almighty.  God right then and there said No seeing the Promised Land for you and your brother.  Nope.  The time came when Moses begged God to change his mind.  “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to my any more about this matter”.  (Deuteronomy 3:26)  No was still No.  Moses died only seeing the Promised Land from a mountain top miles and miles away.

We can run from God.  Jonah did.  He ended up in the belly of a whale before doing exactly what God had asked him to do in the first place.  In his case, Go was still Go.  Jonah’s No was an answer to the old do I have a choice question.

We can test God.  Gideon did.  If you are really going to do what you say you will Lord, I need a sign, and then another.   We can do that.  Intellectually, we can find every reason why blind trust is for the stupid when really, a simple mind is exactly what we need. Choose trusting not testing.

We can imitate our Lord.  Knowing all that was bearing down upon him, Jesus went into prayer.  Let his words settle into the corners of your mind and the hurting parts of your heart…”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”……. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:38,39).  No begging for a different outcome.  No running away from his purpose.  No testing the trustworthiness of the Father’s plan.  Acceptance.

Acceptance is your burden, not the answer No.  Pick it up, carry it, embrace it.  Offer it to others.  Show them how to do the same.

Acceptance must be invited.  It is the beginning of God being glorified through your No.

Acceptance is letting go of control, even when there are no answers.

Acceptance is an offering of praise.  When I am at the end of my angst over the No, when I’m exhausted from the search for answers that cannot be found,  it is then I can rest in Him.  It is there where I find my peace.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters,  I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through  the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah43:1b, 2

Seven ways to minister from the sidlines – Staying active in ministry from home.

We all fight it.  The feeling of  uselessness.  The hollowness of helplessness.  The longing to live unhindered.  Depression quickly consumes hope and all our focus becomes inward.  We start to lose any other-minded thoughts we should act upon, and we can sink into despair. We have nothing to offer.

It is a lie. 

No one ever, ever loses their value or worth in ministering to others just because it looks different.  Nor, are you off the hook because it’s “atypical”.  We may adjust how we carry it out, but it’s just as important as corralling toddlers in the church nursery or running casseroles to the sick or grieving.  Grab your Bible and read Paul’s story.  I would venture to say the thorn in his side caused some “adjusting” of how he ministered.  God didn’t say he couldn’t use the weak and weary, the frail and fragile. If we believe otherwise, we are believing Satan’s lies.  Take a moment to ask the Lord for forgiveness for not trusting him to use you where you are in whatever shape you’re in.  Ask our Father God to show you the ways HE has in mind to use you.  I’m starting you off with seven ministry ideas.

1.  Pray.  The greatest help you can ever be to another human being is to approach the throne of God on their behalf.  I  cringed as the words tumbled out of my mouth, “I’ll be praying, I wish there was more I could do”.  How dare I, a mere human, think any of my efforts (i.e physical work) could equal or surpass that of carrying another’s burden to the Lord in prayer.  Don’t be fooled into believing a plate of cookies is more beneficial than the prayer of a sincere heart.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:6

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:15, 16

2.  Hand write a note of encouragement to someone.  A good old fashioned, penned letter that someone will find delightful  when sorting through the bills and junk we retrieve from our mail boxes.  Those notes are keepsakes, heirlooms.  Hand written encouragement has a way of turning up months and years later, often at times when we need it the most.

 I thank my God every time I remember you.

  Philippians1:3

3.  Choose one thing to be thankful for and start to praise God for it.  Obsess on it.  I promise it will lead to another praise and another.  Today, before the day is done, share it with your family or caregiver.  They will be BLESSED by your positivity.  It is impossible to be angry and downcast while praising the Lord!  Be contagious.

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings(I) and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150

4.  Get on your social media and be the bright spot to all your contacts.  Facebook, Twitter, whatever it may be gets pretty ugly.  I think the green-eyed monster lives there.  It’s where comparisons start and harsh words flow.  Grab your phone or computer and set out to bring The Light of the World to some of those dark posts.   Maybe it will be in the form of your favorite scripture, a recognition of your gratefulness for the friendships, or a picture of a kitten.  Seriously, who doesn’t get a smile out of a baby animal. If a thread has gone sour, be the person to stop the flow of poison.

 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones

Proverbs 17:22

5.  Phone a friend.  Yup, old fashioned phone call. You are blessed with the time to listen. This form of ministry helps you to stay in that other-minded frame of mind as you must engage in their life story.  Don’t you sometimes get tired of people asking you how you are fully knowing they probably don’t really want to know, and they would need a medical degree to understand?  Here’s your chance to minister through authentic interest in another person’s life.  Ask, listen, engage.   Maybe there is an elderly relative you rarely see who lives far away or maybe there is an elderly shut in your church or neighborhood who knows the heavy grey of long and lonely days.  Break up their time with an unexpected treat of attention.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

6.  Minister to your family by putting your household in order.  Yes, it is ministry to those who help care for you when you organize the tasks you can no longer do.  Make a menu and the shopping list to go with it.  Organize it so your shopper can efficiently get through the store.  When chronic illness takes hold of our physical selves, we tend to allow ourselves to believe the lie that our usefulness and vitality have walked out the door with our health.  Do not fall into Satan’s trap to trick you into complacency or total dependency.  Put that brain to work and minister to your family by overseeing!

She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”

Proverbs 31:27-29

7.  Prepare yourself for more ministry by storing up God’s word in your heart.  Open up that Bible, friend!  Read!  Soak it in!  Suffering people are often drawn to other suffering people as we look for understanding. What a gift!  What a responsibility!   You will need to have scriptures ready to roll off your tongue or fingertips at a moment’s notice.  Hurting people need the hope we find in scriptures.  While our words are helpful, they are nothing in comparison to our Lord’s.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path. 

Psalm 119:105

so 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.

Psalm 55:11

Pray and ponder how God might use you in ministry from home. Look for ways to become other-minded.  Because we are all uniquely created with individual gifts, I’m sure many of you will have awesome ministry ideas.  Join me by sharing your experiences and ideas in the comment section.