Finding Belonging With the Great Physician

Out of Place – Bethany’s Story

My family and I were in a serious car accident when I was in the second grade. There were no fatalities, thankfully, but I sustained an injury to the base of my spine. Once I healed, it became obvious that something wasn’t right. Life after that was spent going from doctor to doctor—undergoing test after test—trying to figure out what was going on. I can’t say that all my health problems can be traced back to that car accident, but I believe a lot of them can. While in high school, I distinctly remember filling out intake paperwork with a nurse at a research hospital. She made the comment of, “Wow. You don’t have a single body system that works the way it should.” She said it out of surprise and sympathy. But that moment only confirmed what I’d known for a long time: my body was broken and I was different.

My parents tried to help me live as normal of a childhood as possible, but it was hard. I played sports but couldn’t push myself as hard as the other kids. A laundry list of foods were off limits because of inaccurate food allergy testing, which made birthdays, sleepovers, eating out, and going on trips feel almost impossible. I required daily naps while trying to balance homework, activities, and friends. In college, the stress of finals week almost always caused me to have a shingles outbreak. 

Forced to Learn Boundaries

Early on, I had to learn my own boundaries. I had to come to grips with the fact that my body wouldn’t allow me to do certain things and that some days were harder than others. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling invincible. In fact, I felt very… vincible. I monitor my health and energy levels, trying my best to never let my internal tank reach “E,” which is a bit like playing pin the tail on the donkey.

Chronic health issues are isolating and leave you feeling misunderstood. Life sometimes feels like it’s passing you by while you watch from the sidelines. Missing out on important or fun things can be heartbreaking. People don’t understand how you can look healthy or be young but be falling apart. They also don’t understand how you can do all the things one day but then need three days to recover. This isn’t their fault. Unless they’ve experienced it, they really can’t understand.

finding belonging with a chronic illness

Living Outside of Limiting Labels

My time dealing with chronic illness has taught me that humans love labels. Some of these labels are good and necessary. In medicine, labeling things allows for proper treatment—a compound fracture is treated differently than a sprain, and a bacterial infection is treated differently than a viral one. Chronic illness, however, is the gray area of gray areas. Chances are everyone struggling with a chronic illness has been belittled, dismissed, or disregarded by a medical professional at some point. I get it, I really do—how do you treat something that has no black and white cure? But it’s discouraging. So very, very discouraging. This discouragement and lack of concrete answers can make it tempting to cling to the diagnosis—i.e. a label—as an identity. Instead of having a chronic illness, you are chronically ill. Instead of having depression, you are depressed.

While it’s okay, healthy even, to acknowledge your diagnosis, it’s counterproductive to stew in it. I’ve seen it destroy lives. Maybe that sounds a bit strong, but there are countless hurting people that are consumed by their illness because an identity rooted in a limitation or in self leads to stagnation. There’s no room for growth. And where there’s no growth, there’s decay. Only when your identity is in Jesus can you rise above your limitations.

Jesus has brought me to the place where I can say I’m thankful for the life I’ve lived and for my struggles. They’ve given me a heart for the hurting and taught me compassion and how to empathize. I’m able to meet people in a place where others can’t. I’m also able to give people the benefit of the doubt because I know what it’s like to feel lost and out of control. My health has also shown me how to celebrate the good days and live in the moment.

But more than anything, my health has given me a beautiful glimpse of Christ’s sufficiency and sovereignty. Thank goodness His strength is made perfect in weakness because that’s all I have to offer. Isn’t that the lesson we’re all meant to learn, though? That we have nothing to offer but our brokenness? The Apostle Paul certainly spent a great deal of time talking about that very thing. He even had to learn the lesson himself by living with a thorn in the flesh, whatever that was.

I’ve cried out to Abba Father, my heavenly daddy, knowing that He was there to hold me. He’s the friend you need when you feel alone, scared, limited, and misunderstood. He’s in control, which is comforting when you finally realize you’re not. I’ve found belonging with the Great Physician who is capable of healing the body but is more interested in healing the spirit. Without Him I’m a mess. A total mess. Aren’t we all?

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet Bethany Cox

Bethany Cox is a wife, new mom, and writer who loves to laugh, enjoys a good cup of tea, and looks forward to hoodie weather. She’s passionate about health, wellness, and nutrition but believes there’s always room for dessert. Bethany strives to point people to Jesus as she writes about chronic illness, hope, and understanding your identity. You can connect with Bethany on her website.

*Feature Photo by Madison Agardi on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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