Today I thought I’d tell you the true story of how God taught me how much He loves me.
I began attending church when I was 2 years old when a neighbor took me. I honestly do not remember a time when I did not love God and want to walk with Him. If anyone had asked me if I knew that Jesus loves me, I would have exclaimed, “ABSOLUTELY!”
I thought I comprehended that Jesus loves me, but deep inside I didn’t really understand. There was a fear in me, an insecurity, that feared that if I didn’t measure up, if I failed in some way, I’d be cast off, abandoned, rejected. There was a reason for this fear, since I had grown up with performance based loved at both home and church, and I was rejected and cast off when I didn’t live up to expectations. This carried over into my relationship with God. I always felt miserable, despairing, and filled with self-loathing when I did something wrong. I felt, “How can God love me when I’m such a rotten, terrible failure of a daughter?
I think God tried in various ways to show me of His love, but I just didn’t get it. I kept trying harder to be better, and to deserve or earn His love. I began to see that this was a problem, and I wanted to KNOW that God loves me, so about ten years or so ago, I began to pray Ephesians 3:16-19 for myself:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
I think some of the most dangerous prayers to pray are those praying for change in yourself. If you pray for change, God WILL answer it–and in unexpected ways. I guess I thought that God would answer my prayer that I would comprehend His love by waving a magic wand or snapping His fingers, and I’d feel wrapped securely in His love. Ha! That’s not want happened. Instead, He took me through deep suffering.
I got sick. Very sick. I also got tired. Very tired.
I began suffering from chronic sinus infections. I’d be sick for weeks and months, going through several courses of strong antibiotics before I’d feel better. Often I’d be well for a week or so, and then I’d get sick again, and be sick for weeks and months. After a couple (several?) years of being constantly sick, I eventually had sinus surgery, which was awful, but which took care of my chronic sinus problems.
At the same time as my sinus infections, I suffered from debilitating fatigue. I thought it was from the sinus infections at first, but after countless doctor visits, specialist visits, and blood tests, it was revealed that I had suffered from several bouts of Mono. Eventually I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
I don’t know if you know anything about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), but think “Mono for the rest of your life.” Doctors don’t really know what causes it, and they don’t know how to cure it. People who have CFS have it for the rest of their lives. It is debilitating.
I don’t know how to adequately describe CFS. No matter how exhausted most people get, they can rest and have their energy restored. With CFS, I was always fatigued (think Mono) but rest did not restore me. I felt like elastic with no elasticity. I could not “bounce back” with rest. On my best days, I was able to cook, do light housekeeping, and do laundry. On my bad days, I stayed up long enough for my husband to wake up in the morning (he works 2nd shift and slept until about 10 a.m.), then told him I needed to go back to bed. I’d take a nap, a nap didn’t make me feel better, it just made me not feel worse. On those days, I could not do any work at all. If I tried to “push myself” and do work anyway, I felt incredibly weak. Sometimes I felt so fatigued and weak that I wept, even when I was not sad.
The physical aspects of CFS were terrible, but even more terrible for me was the emotional aspects. For the first time in my life, I could not “perform” to earn or deserve love. I felt like such a useless, purposeless burden, and I was afraid my husband would get tired of me and abandon me. At the time, we were struggling in our marriage and I didn’t feel he loved me much. (This is another story…God worked in both our hearts in awesome ways and we are now very close. EJ is my “bestest” friend) I also was afraid that God would stop loving me and cast me off because I couldn’t do anything for Him. It’s amazing how many sermons and Sunday School lessons there are about the need to do things for God so we don’t disappoint Him. I really struggled with a lot of fear and insecurity.
I felt very strongly that God had something very important to teach me from CFS so I did not pray for healing. One man in our church, who did not know me well, reprimanded me one day. He accused me of being too proud to pray for healing, and he said that a man needed a strong wife, and EJ needed me to be a strong wife, not a weak one. This man meant well, but he did not know me well, and did not know my heart or what I was going through. I think we have to be careful about making quick judgments of others. We don’t always know the full story of what others are experiencing.
Despite what this man said, I still felt that God had something important to teach me through CFS. My mentor/small group leader agreed. He said he believed that when I had learned what God had to teach me, I would be healed. I didn’t know if he was right or wrong about my eventual healing, but I was determined to trust God through it. Rather than pray for healing, I prayed that God would work in my life, teach me about Him, and that I would find my strength in Him. Little by little, I learned to rest in Him, to find my strength in Him, and to thank Him for CFS. I learned the truth of 2 Cor. 12:9-11:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Then there came I day when I got it. Like a bolt of lightning driving the truth deep in my heart and spirit, I finally understood that I cannot deserve or earn God’s love, I can only accept it. As the Michael Card song says, “He cannot love more and He will not love less.” If I cannot do another thing for God, God will not stop loving me because His love doesn’t rest on what I do, but on Who He Is. When we trust Him, He does for us what we cannot do. I have never again, since this day, doubted that God loves me with a love beyond imagining. Comprehending His love for me has brought firmness and stability into my life, and has healed deep spirit wounds within me.
When the bolt of lightning hit me, people suddenly–out of the blue–began telling me that they had begun praying for my healing. EJ said he was praying, our small group leader said he was praying for my healing, the woman who cut my hair said she was praying, and an assortment of friends let me know they were praying. My Wednesday prayer group gathered around me and prayed for my healing, anointing my head with oil, and from that moment I was healed from CFS.
I could scarcely believe it. I kept doing things to see if the fatigue and weaknesses hit me, but it didn’t. I could work hard, and rest, and feel my energy restored. Often people complain about work, but I tell you that you don’t realize what a awesome gift work is until your health is gone and you can’t work. I am thankful for the blessing of work, and for health. I am thankful that I can work until I am tired, and then rest and be restored. They are all gifts.
Being physically healed was an awesome gift. However, I think the most awesome gift was the spiritual healing and strength I received when God enabled me to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is what I call a “strangely-wrapped gift” from God. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts don’t come wrapped in beautiful experiences. Sometimes they come wrapped in the ugly wrapping paper of suffering. God has taught me some awesome things during times of deep suffering. I try to keep this in mind when life gets difficult. Although I don’t enjoy suffering, I have learned to appreciate what God accomplishes through it.