Okay With Not Being Okay
You’re walking around with a fifty pound weight in your backpack. Sometimes you forget that it’s back there because it’s all you’ve ever known. Other days it feels like a boulder and you can’t take one step forward without falling backwards. You’re told that if someone wants to help carry it or remove some of the weight, it’s seen as weak. You’ve been told that you should be able to push through this on your own and show people how strong you are. However, most of the time, you’ll wear a coat over top of the backpack so others don’t stare at the thing that’s slowing you down. So we puff out our chest, put on a smile and say we’re fine.
Brothers and sisters, I know this feeling all too well. To quote the band, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Have you ever been close to tragedy or been close to folks who have? Have you ever felt a pain so powerful so heavy you collapse?” Well, my whole life has been chock full of these things.
I knew I was different from a very early age. I couldn’t do some things other kids could do, like go outside for recess during the winter because my lungs weren’t strong enough to weather the cold. Along with life-threatening asthma as an infant, I had a lot of allergies (atmospheric and food) and a lower immune system than most other kids my age. I might as well have been the inspiration for the Seinfeld episode, “The Bubble Boy.”
As I became a teenager, I added viral infections, unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite, mild gastroesophageal reflux disease, migraines and pneumonia to the list of battles. Right after I turned 21, I had my first of many bouts with kidney stones. I still get them from time to time. It's like the equivalent to being pregnant but never knowing the due date. All the pain, none of the glory. A few days after my 30th birthday, I was admitted into the hospital for viral encephalitis which are just fancy scientific words for brain inflammation. Along with a spinal tap, I was bedridden for twenty days where I was delirious, losing weight and feeling miserable. And lastly, I currently struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome which requires me to say no to fun food and forces me to be super aware of my surroundings. Because of my struggles with IBS, I often find myself staying home instead enjoying a night out with friends.
I share all my health issues with you to let you know I struggle everyday. My guess is you also have daily issues you wrestle with. That is part of being human after all. Maybe your pain is something similar to mine, maybe it’s harsher than my circumstances. But thankfully no matter how big or small our problems seem to be, Christ offers us the same truth to rely on. 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Having this attitude and reliance on an all powerful God helps shift my perspective when I’m in the midst of pain. When I’m laying in my bed in agony, I know God is providing me with all of His strength because I’m choosing to put my trust in Him.
Other times when I’m struggling, I say a prayer and ask God to remove my pain or be my strength to help me through it. He answers the prayer every single time. God doesn’t promise us a break from our stress, illnesses or struggles but He does promise us comfort in Jesus. The things that make us feel weak have the ability to make us come humbly before God and ask for His strength and comfort which He will always give us freely. I take 2 Corinthians 12:9 to heart when it says, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” I realized my weakness isn’t something I should hide. I remember being so sick I couldn’t get out of bed to go to work and having to tell my clients about my predicament. They were gracious and allowed me to turn in my project past the deadline. Other times, my wife Beth, has stepped up and done some of my work for me.
To quote Bob Goff, a leading Christian author and speaker, “God doesn’t allow things to happen to mess with our heads; He uses these circumstances to shape our hearts. He knows difficulties and hardship and ambiguity are what cause us to grow because we are reminded of our absolute dependence upon Him.” I can vouch for this. All of my health issues have reinforced the idea that I can’t do this alone and need Christ and the church body to get through life. I have good friends who check in on me, ask me how I’m doing and tell me they’ve been praying for me. To me, that’s invaluable. Having friends who care for you the way Christ intended is a much needed part of life.
And that’s what people find really tough to do – be vulnerable. Because being vulnerable means you’re willing to be open and susceptible to harm. I think that’s hard to do, especially since we sometimes feel like we’re already hurt. But being vulnerable is good because it also means you’re not leaving anything unexposed. By letting other weak people know your weaknesses, you’re actually making them stronger. It reminds me of this verse from 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve listened to others deal with grief and sickness but I’ve also been the one to share my own struggles. I was on a podcast hosted by my friend, Alicja Colon, and I had the opportunity to share my story. I had no idea the impact it would have on other people. Many reached out to me afterwards sharing their struggles, and you know what? Pointing people to Christ is the ultimate joy. Knowing that Jesus can comfort other people too is a huge blessing.
Society takes great pride in accomplishing things on our own. We’re told to find the strength from within. We’re told to be lone wolves and rise above our challenges. But in Jeremiah 17:5-8, the Lord says that a man who relies upon his own strength is like a shrub in the desert, unable to do anything to stay alive. But to those who put their trust in the Lord are like a tree planted by water so no matter what adversity the tree might face like scorching heat or drought, it remains full of life. It’s an accurate comparison and don’t we want to be full of life? Even while outside forces may seem like they are against us, the Lord is still fulfilling His promise to sustain us.
Whenever I’m going through something difficult I’ll often quote from the Cameron Crowe movie, Elizabethtown, “If it wasn’t this, it’d be something else.” I think that quote will resonate with me for the rest of my life. And because I have Christ in my corner, I can rest knowing He’s got my burdens in the future because I’ve seen him carry them in the past. Jesus says that His burden is light and he will give us rest (Matt.11:28-30) so you better believe I’m taking Him up on his offer.
It’s okay to not be okay. And ultimately, if God doesn’t grant you healing in this life, He gives it you in the next if you have committed your life to Christ. In heaven you’ll have a new and perfect body. I know I’m looking forward to that and I hope you are too.
Ben Stafford is an illustrator, designer, and writer with clients including National Geographic, ESPN, American Express, and Seat Geek. He is also the co-founder of Foxmeadow Creative, a studio that he runs with his wife.