I’ve always been a planner.
Every Monday I spend a couple of hours on my weekly review, planning for the days ahead. I’ve laminated my morning and evening routine checklists. There’s nothing I enjoy more than making a new spreadsheet.
And in the same way, I always had the timeline of my life figured out. I planned to finish a double undergraduate degree plus my Masters by 22. I’d then work as a forensic scientist for the federal police. I would marry in my early 20s, have my first kid by 24, with two or three more to follow in two-year increments.
But then I got sick.
When I was eighteen, chronic fatigue syndrome took me down Now, at 24, a different timeline has unfolded: I’m single, it took me five years to finish my undergrad degrees, and I don’t have any idea what my career path is going to look like.
Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on my best years. I once read that your body and mind start declining from your late twenties. Considering I can’t work full-time and I need a lie-down after going to the shops, things are looking pretty bleak.
From the our society’s perspective of the “good life”, I don’t have it. I can’t use these years of freedom and singleness to do whatever I want—it all depends on scheduling and joint pain and whether I’ve got enough beans left.
Yet God has given me so much better than I had planned. Our heavenly father does indeed know how to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11).
Of course, God uses whatever circumstances we’re in (both good and bad) to transform us to be like Jesus. But there are unique ways he uses our pain. Through sickness I have seen clearly my own weakness and inadequacy. God has worked to show his mighty power, in ways I could never do on my own. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” In the face of this truth, there’s no room for boasting.
My friends have shown up for me time and time again. Few things are more precious than knowing you can count on friends in times of hardship, whether they bring practical help, prayer, or just never tire of asking how my health is going. I think chronic fatigue has made me a better friend too. God has entrusted me with this illness so I can better understand and care for the weak, sick and weary.
I am far happier now than before I got sick (and not just because I’ve passed the teen angst phase). God used this illness to break my hold on things in this world which are failing. James tells us:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
I don’t always count it all joy. I still find myself grumbling far more than I want to. But when I read this verse, I know it’s true. Through sickness God has strengthened my faith, and that has brought me so much more joy than success, prosperity, freedom and boundless energy ever could.
There are countless examples in Scripture of people whose lives didn’t go the way they expected. When he was out tending to the sheep, Joseph wasn’t expecting to go from the pastures to slavery, from jail to Pharaoh’s house. But God knew. He had planned this so Israel would be preserved according to the promises he’d made to Abraham.
When I started university, I wanted to make the most of my head start for my own glory. But God had a better plan: to magnify his own glory. This is far better, for me and for others.
Learning to trust God is better than the freedom of being healthy. A deep relationship with Jesus is far better than a husband and a house full of kids. The stable hope of heaven is better than a stable career. And “wasting” my best years is better than wasting my life on things that don’t matter—far better than wasting eternity.