My Life/Teen Life

What God Taught me Through Chronic Illness

Roughly 20 years ago, my mom contracted Lyme disease which is passed through the bite of a Lyme bacteria-infected tick. The facial paralysis and debilitating fatigue she experienced resulted in her returning home early from her semester abroad in college. She was thought to simply have Chronic Mono, but was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease 20 years later, after an MRI revealed brain damage.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease when I was 19 years old, even though I had never been bitten by a tick. Come to find out, Lyme bacteria can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, which is why I eventually tested positive for the disease. This meant that I had a 19 year bacterial brain infection that had gone undetected and untreated. Lyme disease affects everyone differently. For me personally, Lyme resulted into a weak immune system, ADHD, mental fog, fatigue, weak muscles, and potential brain damage. Thankfully, my mom, my siblings (who also tested positive), and I have been going through treatment to repair and heal our brains and bodies.

Through this journey of diagnosis, treatment, and healing, God continues to teach me some of the most amazing life lessons.

Jesus Is an Incredible Healer and Comforter

Jesus shows an abundance of mercy and compassion toward the sick, disabled, and dying throughout the Bible. People came to Him from all over, begging for healing. Even the woman who simply touched Jesus’ cloak was healed after years of suffering (Mark 5:25-34). Jesus had such an overwhelming ability to heal that even just the slightest touch restored one’s health!

Though God has the power to heal us physically, sometimes His healing comes in other ways. God has granted us the wonderful gift of the Anointing of the Sick. Jesus knew that those with physical, chronic, and terminal illnesses need additional grace in order to push through and carry their crosses. Although the Anointing of the Sick is one of the most overlooked sacraments, it is through this very Sacrament that we call upon God for His grace and courage. It opens up the door for God to pour His divinity and healing onto our soul and body. Not only do we receive grace, but Anointing of the Sick reflects on how human our bodies are and prepares our soul for our reunion with Christ in heaven.

Although Anointing of the Sick is specifically for those who suffer terminal or chronic illness that could potentially lead to death, Jesus gave us the gift of community. Matthew 10:1 tells us “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Just as Jesus commanded the Apostles to heal, the Lord calls us to pray over those who are ill. When two or more are gathered in His name to pray over the sick and suffering, His grace and comfort overflows.

Suffering is a Gift

Often times we wish away suffering, especially illness. It’s easy to become frustrated with God, asking, “Why won’t you just heal me? You say you can by why won’t you?!” We may even try to convince God to heal us so that we can more easily glorify and praise Him. We sometimes start to believe that we would be better disciples of Christ if we did not endure painful trials.

However, what would redemption be without suffering? In fact, all of humanity was redeemed by physical suffering, as Jesus died for us on the cross. Since suffering plays a large role in our humanity, Jesus needed to suffer to offer us redemption. Any struggles we face, physical or not, are part of our journey to sanctification. So, instead of wishing away pain and illness, we must learn to accept them and offer them to the Lord. As we embrace suffering more, we sink deeper into Christ and become more connected to His suffering. Even St. Therese of Lisieux, who battled Tuberculosis, believed that “our suffering, in union with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, can help to transform the world.”

Although there are times I wish I didn’t have a chronic illness, I am thankful for it because it has made me even more reliant on Christ and His love. Though chronic illness is a part of who I am, it doesn’t define me. If I allow myself to be defined by this condition, my soul mirrors my body, as it becomes weak and ill. However, if I am defined by Christ’s glory and Resurrection, my illness and suffering become His glory.

The Eucharist is the Ultimate Image of Suffering and Glory

Although I continue to ask God for physical healing, my soul and body are continuously comforted through the Eucharist. What better way to ask for healing than by receiving Christ in the flesh into your body? Even when we are not physically healed, the Eucharist is the spiritual food we rely on to persevere with our body’s state.

The Eucharist is the ultimate reminder of physical pain, self-gift, and upholds true glory. During the Mass, Jesus’ body is sacrificed through the breaking of bread, mirroring the physical pain of the crucifixion. It’s through His brokenness that we receive divine grace and healing- a gift Jesus constantly beckons us to come receive.

The Hebrew word for glory in the Old Testament, “kabod,” originally translated to “weight” or “heaviness.” It is only through weight and heaviness that glory is revealed. Chronic illness is accompanied with constant suffering, but it is also met with constant joy. When we embrace our personal crosses — sickness, suffering, trials — with grace, we grow in virtue, become more of an image of Christ, and dwell in His love.

Chronic illness can be a burden, but the glory of Christ and His love outshine even the heaviest burden. We were made to sink deeper into the comforts of our creator when facing trials, allowing Him to be our true caretaker. He is the ultimate comforter, caretaker, and healer of all things, and in that, we are made a new creation.

Here are some rad Saints who also dealt with illnesses:
St. Juliana Falconieri, Patron Saint of Chronic Illness – Chronic stomach issues

St. Peregrine Laziosi, Patron Saint of Cancer – Leg cancer

Blessed Margaret of Castello, Patron Saint of Disabilities – Blind and Scoliosis

St. Bernadette and St. Therese of Lisieux – Tuberculosis

Mother Teresa – Heart Disease

St. John Paul II – Parkinson’s Disease

St. Dymphna, Patron Saint of Mental Disorders

St. Padre Pio – Chronic Gastritis

St. Marie-Azelie – Breast cancer
St. Louis – Strokes
(First canonized couple!)

About the Author

Emily Clare Burt

I'm a loud, goofy, Southerner with a passion for radical authenticity and self-confidence rooted in Christ alone. I'm a lover of tattoos (as I work on a leg sleeve) and a firm believer that Theology of the Body will change the world. When I'm not goofing around with the people I love most, you can find me thrifting, jamming to ODESZA or The Neighbourhood, raving about my 3 younger brothers, or trying to figure out this whole "life" thing. Follow me on instagram @emilyclareburt!

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