The self-care I’m writing about today comes directly out of my perspective as a Christian with chronic illness. Many of the things I write are applicable to people of many diverse faiths and worldviews, and I so appreciate the many friends I have from so many different faiths. The posts I write about my own religious practices are not to alienate anyone who feels or worships differently, but to show how I, personally, integrate my Christian belief system into part of a holistic self-care method to be my best, wellest self with chronic illness.
As I’ve written about a lot on this blog, my resolution for 2017–which was one word rather than a laundry list of goals–was wellness. Unlike physical health, which I often cannot control, I could make a commitment to be holistically well. I could make good choices in mind, body, and soul that would lead to overall wellness.
I knew that in order to do this, I would need positive coping mechanisms, of which I did not have very many. I am not a huge hobby person, and I knew picking up a hobby would not be a good coping mechanism for me, as I would not have the mental or physical energy to devote to it. I already devoted nearly all the energy I have working as an educator and to my family, as the married mother of a three year old girl. I also try writing wherever I can. My healthy coping mechanisms were taking long baths and drinking hot coffee and tea, and watching a couple tv shows, but I really needed something to occupy my mind during those pursuits: something that didn’t take a ton of brain power, but was constructive, not destructive. Usually, I turned to mindlessly scrolling social media, which tended to be pretty destructive and fuel my anxiety through its mindlessness and politics.
So there I was, until I latched onto my most effective coping mechanism: scripture reading.
For someone who has identified as a Christian since she was two years old, reading scripture almost seems obvious. Why wasn’t I doing it all along?
And I did, here and there. But I had never really made Bible reading a regular, daily part of my life. I would go to a camp or conference or retreat, or start a new year, and I would become inspired and energized to read the Bible every day, or read through the Bible in a year, but that momentum rarely lasted. I would get a new Bible, and I would love flipping through it and highlighting it at first, but after a month, I would fall back into the busyness of life, and there it would sit, its newness not fitting into my old patterns of meds and work and family and rest and catastrophe and pain and doctors appointments and diets and allergies and everything else I deal with as a chronically ill working mom.
Two things really changed my commitment to scripture for me. The first was my 2017 word of wellness–so, in a way, getting sick, because I never would have thrown myself into scripture if I wouldn’t have been so desperate for wellness after getting so much sicker after the birth of my daughter. However, it was really a delayed quest: my pregnancy, that brought out all my health issues, started back in mid-2013.
The second thing that helped jump-start my use of scripture as coping mechanism was my smartphone, of all things. Like I said earlier, one of the not-so-healthy coping mechanisms I often found myself resorting to was mindlessly scrolling through social media, often a lot longer than I intended. It’s a lot easier, with my often-sore joints, brain fog, neck pain, eye pain, and other symptoms due to my EDS and Chiari for me to hold and focus on a smartphone than a book.
I started using the free YouVersion Bible App way back when a pastor at a previous church in a community I worked at while in grad school recommended it for a whole-church plan the church was doing–an overview of 100 important scriptures in 100 days or something like that. It was back when I didn’t finish what I started, scripture wise, so I didn’t finish it, and I think I even uninstalled it from my phone, but I had knowledge of it when I started my year of wellness.
I started slow, just reading Psalms and Proverbs. In February, I added the New Testament, too. In March, I hit a rough patch in my life when I was transitioning jobs and really, really needed a coping mechanism. I could have thrown myself into all matter of unhealthy things, and briefly considered it. I was absolutely terrified I was going to have a crisis of faith and start losing my beliefs, especially since I wasn’t working in a church.
Because of that fear of losing my faith, I started reading more scripture than ever before. I threw myself into using scripture as a way to cope with my illness, which was a major factor in the transition; with my anxiety; with all my fears–and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I couldn’t get enough of the scripture. I started reading all the themed devotional plans I could: plans on pain, plans on suffering and hope and anxiety and grief and transition. All things I could apply to my particular situation with my chronic illnesses.
I have now finished the New testament and am reading through the whole bible; the Psalms for a second time; and many more themed studies, all for the sake of wellness and coping with chronic illness and thriving through it. I share this not at all to brag, but because it has seriously helped me in ways I could never ever imagine, and I hope it may be able to help orhers too. I do it all in small chunks from my smartphone, usually in bed or in the bath or wherever is most comfortable.
Now, quick moment of vulnerability here: I have had this post scheduled for today in my planner for weeks, and have been drafting it for almost as long. But it isn’t done yet this evening, and I need to be real with you: today has been an absolutely terrible day, the kind of day where I was yelling at God at the way home from work, reminding God how much i have done for my call and how much I have given up for it and why does life have to continue to be so hard with all I’ve sacrificed? Who wants to write a blog post about how much they love reading scripture and how much God’s word helps them on a day they were literally yelling at God for life being so hard?
Well, I do, because I have to tell you: scripture is /full/ of people yelling at God, and questioning God, and laughing at God, and wrestling with God. And yes, sometimes God rebukes them. But God is always big enough for our emotions. And that’s what I love about the scriptures.
That’s why I’ve found them such a haven in my chronic pain. Because they’re not all feel good little sound bites. They’re real emotion. They’re people, throughout time, on a journey struggling with pain and suffering: and a God who is always salvific, a savior who ultimately redeems the story. Something I can hold onto, not in this life but for the next.