Of all the things I have had to endure because of my chronic illness, there is one thing I never expected. For me, it came out of left field. I was prepared for the frustration which comes with living with a chronic illness; I was expecting physical anguish and massive medical bills; I was even ready to persevere through agonizing days when I was tempted to quit. But there was one problem I never knew would exist for a person battling a chronic illness – people.
Call me naïve, but I never expected people couldn't handle my sickness. It’s not like they were the ones forced to endure countless tests from multiple doctors as if they were some great lab experiment. It’s not like they were the ones who had to pop numerous pills throughout the day to help their body cope with an illness. It’s not like they were the ones who had to spend day after day and night after night in pain. So why would my sickness be a problem for them?
It’s sad to say, but I've dealt with all of these scenarios on multiple occasions. To this day, I consider dealing with others’ reactions to my illness one of the hardest parts about being sick, which is why I love today’s passage in Philippians 3. Admittedly, before I did an in-depth study of this passage, I thought it odd. To me, it didn't make much sense. In verse one, Paul tells everyone to be filled with joy, and suddenly in verse two he starts talking about things to beware of, such as dogs, evil workers, and false circumcision. Yet the more I studied these verses, the more I realized they do in fact apply to our lives. In verse two when Paul seems to go off on a tangent, he’s talking about being aware of people that oppose us. So in verse three when Paul says we “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” he is saying our hope and strength comes from our relationship with Christ and not people. Because of our relationship with Christ, we can handle those times when people we love and care for hurt us. Paul sandwiched verse two between verses one and three to help us remember that no matter what happens, our focus should remain on God. In fact, in verse one Paul says that when we rejoice in the Lord, it is a safeguard for us. Fascinated with the word “safeguard,” I did a word study in the original Greek language and realized Philippians 3:1 is the only time in all of Scripture the word “safeguard” is used. It literally means “to not trip up.” So when we choose to be filled with joy no matter how people treat us, we are not tripped up by our circumstances because our confidence is in God.
I don’t know about you, but it encourages me to know that I can overcome people and their reactions to my sickness. I can choose to rejoice because God’s love for me is far greater than any negative reaction people may have in regards to my suffering. And when I’m focused on God’s great love for me, I can then choose to forgive those who have hurt me.
There’s an old hymn entitled “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” whose words could have been written by the apostle Paul. The first verse and chorus are, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms. What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms. Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”
I don’t have to ask if you’ve been hurt by others. It’s a fact of life. People hurt people. The question is, “How are you dealing with the pain inflicted by others?” Are you angry and unforgiving, or have you learned how to lean on God? As someone who has done both, I can guarantee that there is no greater place to be than leaning on the everlasting arms. For it is when we lean on God, that we truly are safe and secure.
“For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; my praise is continually of You.” ~ Psalm 71:5-6
© October 18, 2012