Hurting . . . Alone?
Constant numbness took over the left side of my face. Intense shooting pain traveled up the back of my neck and head. Overwhelming worry and fear trapped me. Was it a brain tumor? I shot up prayers for health, healing, and understanding, but God seemed strangely silent.
I made an appointment to see my doctor, but in the meantime, I desperately wanted an instant fix. I wanted the numbness to go away and life to return to normal.
Friends and family who tried to offer support or comfort seemed only to make things worse with such comments as, "Everything will be fine. God is in control!" and by tossing random Scripture verses at me. I knew they meant well, but their words hurt. What if everything didn't turn out fine?
Even after the results of an MRI confirmed the absence of a brain tumor, I continued to feel anxious. The illness was still a mystery and God was still silent. I felt as if God had abandoned me.
I was desperate for a diagnosis, but my doctor had exhausted all her resources without reaching any conclusions. I cried out to God, "Help me! Which direction do I take for answers?"
As I pleaded with God, a memory came to mind: the painful struggle I went through after my second pregnancy ended in a stillborn birth. God had seemed absent then too. Each day during that difficult time I would plead for God to help me, and yet I remained in profound anguish.
Over time, I became aware that I had a choice to make each day. I could either stay with God or I could walk away. I'd already lost so much—I didn't want to lose God too, even if he remained silent. So I determined to stay with God. It didn't matter how my emotions changed or how I felt each day; I stayed committed to him.
Revisiting this terrible time in my mind brought the truth back into focus. God had delivered me out of bitter grief. He would deliver me again. God had already proven himself to be faithful. And so once more, I made my choice to hang on to him—even if I felt alone.
Even Through Clenched Teeth
All of us can face anxiety when negative circumstances occur, such as an unexpected job loss, impending foreclosure, abnormal behavior of a spouse or child, or like me, a sudden health crisis that hits us out of nowhere. In those times, it's dangerously easy to become consumed with dark thoughts. Often we visualize ourselves in worst-case scenarios in which God's presence and power seem to be absent. We make the scene larger and the situation more demanding than God could possibly handle. We see ourselves alone in an unwanted place. And those mental images that consume us end up stealing our joy and leading us away from the one who is our hope, our comfort, our Savior.
How can we take back our peace of mind—even in the worst circumstances? At my lowest point I realized I was allowing myself to become a prisoner to my dark thoughts. My fear and worry were only making the situation worse. When I faced that reality, my first response was to be honest with God. I admitted, Lord, I'm afraid. Coming clean with my fear and vulnerability helped me acknowledge that I'm not in control. Then I was able to pray, Lord, even though I don't understand why this is happening, I know you are at work in my life. I'm going to take captive these anxious and fearful thoughts and give them to you. I'm going to trust that no matter what happens, you have everything under control.
Sometimes I had to literally force out the words through clenched teeth: "I trust you, Lord." But eventually I also began to pray, "Thank you that nothing can ever separate me from your love. Death can't … and life can't" (Romans 8:38).
Whenever dark thoughts tried to penetrate my mind, I asked God to help me focus on praising him. And the more I chose to worship God, the more naturally that worship began to flow from my lips. Praise and fear simply can't coexist. Worship drove the dark thoughts away! Praising God enabled me to see the bigger picture of life and God's character. Worship escorted me past lying emotions and returned me to God—the source of all hope, comfort, peace, and joy.
Making Trust Tangible
God knows how quickly we tend to forget his faithfulness and his provision—especially when the clouds of darkness threaten to overtake us. Throughout the Bible God had his people build tangible reminders of the ways he showed up to protect and save them (for example, see Joshua 4).
When I struggled with my mysterious illness, I decided to create tangible reminders for myself: sticky notes and index cards filled with encouraging Scriptures. I chose passages like Psalm 34:6: "In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles." And Psalm 145:14, 17: "The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads …. The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness." I wrote the verses in bright colors that popped off the page, then I posted them on my bathroom mirror, kitchen window, over the car radio—any place I found myself throughout my day. Those verses helped me dwell on God's promises and God's character rather than on the bad circumstances I was in.
Finally Finding Answers
After two years of seeking an answer from optometrists, dentists, specialists, and numerous family doctors, I was finally diagnosed for one part of my mysterious health problems. Instructed by my new family doctor to chart my daily food intake, hormonal changes, and local weather, I diligently complied. In that process I gave up my daily morning mocha habit … and found relief! I believe God took away my craving for my sweet morning wake-up fix in order to show me that it was triggering migraines. To this day, I am migraine-free.
Six years later I discovered the answer to the second part of my health mystery. I'd reached a point at which I was tired of seeing doctors and sick of having my hopes for an answer repeatedly dashed. Then one day, as I was flipping through a magazine and waiting for my son to finish his dental appointment, an answer found me. A diagram in the magazine of red circles down the back of a person's neck, shoulders, and upper back grabbed my attention. The caption explained it was a depiction of the tender points on the body related to a chronic illness called fibromyalgia. Soon afterward I went to another new family doctor who, after examining me, concluded that I did indeed suffer from fibromyalgia.
Strangely, I was thrilled to hear the diagnosis—it wasn't a mystery anymore! Though I still suffer from chronic pain, I'm now free of the worry and fear that gripped me when I didn't know its cause.
God desires to free us from the grip of stress and anxiety. But God also allows us the freedom to choose whether we'll remain bound to worry and fear or if we'll choose to remain free. We may not come out of a tough circumstance unscathed, but when we choose trust and freedom, our attitude and joy won't be harmed by life's difficulties. We can remain free in God as we remember Paul's words: "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he does. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Cindy Pocapalia lives with her husband and two children in California.