I began developing the symptoms of my multiple chronic illnesses at the age of 13.
People always seem to feel sorry for me about the early onset of my illnesses, and have expressed their sympathy by saying things like, “You’re too young to be sick.”
This may sound crazy, but I have learned to view my suffering in a different way. God has taught me to see it as a blessing.
Life with chronic illness is very difficult, but over the last 4 years I have seen the incredible ways our God can take suffering and use it for good. I am not disappointed that God allowed me to become chronically ill as a teen instead of when I am 80. Here are a few reasons why I am grateful that I became sick as a young person.
1. God is teaching me things now that take many people decades to learn, and is helping me cultivate habits that will influence me for the rest of my life
I am so incredibly thankful that God is teaching me things early in my walk with Him. I don’t have to fear the future or wonder if God will be with me in trials, because I have witnessed how faithful He has been in the suffering I have already experienced.
I like to refer to suffering as an accelerated course in spiritual growth. God is teaching me things about Him that will remain true for the rest of my days. I have grown and matured in Christ at a swifter pace than others around me because of the way God has used suffering to reveal my sin and strengthen my reliance upon Him. I wouldn’t trade the resulting relationship I have with Jesus for anything.
2. My illnesses have taught me to be intentional about what I do
As a chronically ill person, I am limited quite severely by my symptoms and pain. I don’t have the energy or physical ability to do as much as my healthy peers. But this hardship is actually a blessing. It has taught me to use my time wisely, and to invest in things that have eternal value – like spending time with Jesus, and encouraging others in their faith.
So many people my age waste countless hours on meaningless things. My pain has taught me that my time is valuable. Because I never know how long I will be physically strong enough to do anything, I have learned to prioritize and to take those opportunities and use them for God’s glory.
3. My suffering has opened the door to relationships that will last far beyond my teen years
Most friendships between young people (and people in general) are centered around having fun and feeling good. But friendships built on those flimsy foundations won’t last long. The feelings will change, and the excitement will wear off. God has used my suffering to deepen my existing relationships, as well as to bring people into my life that I would not have met otherwise.
2 Corinthians 1:4 teaches us that God “comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Because I have experienced God’s comfort in the midst of my pain, I can extend that to others. When I am vulnerable about my struggles and the hope I have in them, it sets the stage for my friends to be as well. Because of this, my friends and I can be real about what we are going through, and point each other to God’s truth.
God in His sovereignty has also placed other people in my life who are sick too. Without being chronically ill, I would never have had the opportunity for such wonderful friendships with them. True Christian fellowship is one of the most amazing gifts God has given us. Because my friendships are rooted in Christ, and not in fun or feelings, I know they will far outlast any other type of friendship.
If you are suffering as a young person, don’t let yourself fall into self-pity because of the bad timing of your pain. Even when it feels like we are missing out on our teenage years, we really aren’t. God never wastes our suffering. You may not be able to experience life like other teens, or do all the things they can do, but God is growing you in ways that will impact you for the rest of your life. Through our pain, we get to know more about our Savior in a shorter amount of time, and learn how to trust Him and have joy at a faster rate than many others our age.