One of the great joys of this past year was reconnecting with Rosalind, my cousin, who did us the honour of traveling all the way from the south of England for our daughter’s wedding. Shortly after her return to England she was struck with labyrinthis and was unable to work for a time. A devout and deeply committed Christian, she struggled to make sense of her illness, and the Lord’s purpose in it. I have asked her permission to print her her reflections on that journey through her illness in order to encourage those who are going through physical trials that tax their spirit and sap their strength. This is her story:

Labyrinthitis.  Ten weeks ago, I’d never heard of it.  I’m now in the eleventh week of living through it, knowing it intimately.  As intimately as God knows me. Day after day, needing to be well and get back to work, I awoke giddy, sick, and fatigued.  I wanted to get on with my life, but all I could do was rest.  Without rest, the virus directly triggers ME, which would mean a long illness.  And I already knew of someone who’d had labyrinthitis for ten months.

Rest.  Sounds enviable? Yes, but not when you lose interest in everything – television, dvds, music, knitting, needlepoint, writing, reading, cooking – are too ill to go for a walk, and are not allowed to drive.  

Usually, I’m a very busy person.  Doing nothing, feeling useless and often tearful because of the virus, gave me a revealing glimpse of old age.  I couldn’t use my skills.  I felt a burden to those around me.  Isolated.  Purposeless.  Futile.  Each day seemed endless, yet passed far too fast.  All that wasted time – days of my life – slipping past, out of my reach, beyond my ability to use to the full.

Such emptiness forced me to reflect.  Events I’d resolved and forgotten surfaced from my past.  With nothing else to do, I dwelt on them, and became convicted of my unworthiness and sinfulness.  Incidents, words, thoughts, that at the time hadn’t seemed particularly regrettable, let alone sinful, revealed themselves in all their ugliness and horror.  How could I have done such things?   They weren’t trivial, but unacceptable to God.  Why hadn’t I been kinder, more thoughtful, less self-centred, better for God, and more reflective of His beauty and grace?  I loathed myself, and repented, over and over before Him, of all these unwitting errors.  Things left undone; other things not done well enough.  Even things I’d long ago received forgiveness for, I was pricked by as if they’d only just happened.

I was so sorry, and so unworthy.

Into this desolation our Father came, with love and comfort.  As I sat in forced idleness, feeling giddy and unbalanced and sick, I felt Him very near.  He revealed himself in a beautiful, intense, loving, comforting presence, which never left me.  He dwelt in me, and – most precious! – I was allowed to dwell deeply in Him, drawn unimaginably close.    

Then, one morning, repenting again of a sin, I had an astonishing revelation.  I no longer needed to repent of it.  My Father had made me new.  The person I had become, through His grace, had been totally forgiven.  The past belonged to the “old Rosalind”.  My sense of forgiveness and renewal was so strong it was as if the old me was sitting at my side, separate from the new me that God had brought into being.

The more loathsome my state, the more precious His love.  How gracious a God – so great, so lovely, so pure – to see worthiness in me!   Grim weeks of illness were being turned into a wonderful opportunity to know Him more and more.  Now there was a glowing jewel embedded in my dull days: His companionship, understanding, and overwhelming love.

During my walk with God, two things have been difficult to understand.  His love for me (I had a loving father who routinely abused me physically) and the idea of Him having a plan for me.  His love, His care, His passion for relationship, became abundantly obvious.  I felt loved as never before and, at last, I was able to accept His love fully, knowing I was made new in Him.

As for God’s plan: that, too, became clear.  I could see it mapped out for me in the significant events of the past few years, in the illness that claimed my present, and in His promise for my future.  Our Pastor once said, “Lay hold of God – and he’ll lay hold of you” – a truth I have experienced more than once.  But the way God laid hold of me this time, revealing His plan, was astonishingly powerful and absolute.  I personally discovered that when He decides to do something, no-one, nothing, will stop him.  Feeling His resolute force in my small life would have been terrifying if it hadn’t been so marvellous, awe-inspiring, exciting.

The time of illness showed me something else.  We are all too busy.  We know it, as we awake each morning – with God, but powerless, most of us, to resist the pressures, stresses, treadmills, of work and daily routine.  Every day, confronted by people’s expectations, we push ourselves further, or are forced into exhausting, spiritually draining busyness.  Not many of us have the leisure and tranquillity to meet Him as totally as we aspire or long to, every day of our lives.  We’re tired; we’re worried; our minds are churning with all the things we need to remember for the day ahead, or the next day, in which there is never enough time or energy.

God grieves that our lives, in this society, are so overwhelmed with worldly demands and concerns.  He wants to lead us by still waters, to restore our souls, and our understanding, love, and knowledge of Him.  He is there, at our elbow, even in front of us, waiting.  Our God, our heavenly Father, has to wait in our world, for us to see Him.  He wants us to recognise him, in all his beauty and majesty – and in the humility that sent Him to earth as one of us.  He loves us.  He yearns to know us all, individually, as fully as possible.

We need to struggle against the things that prevent us from dwelling in Him, and Him from dwelling in us.  He is our priority.  How can we make more time for Him? Trust Him.  Nothing can stop God’s work in our lives.  We may not always understand, but we can always trust. By opening ourselves to Him in total trust, we can find Him.  The more we open, the more He can lay hold of us, and help us to lay hold of Him.  Trusting in Him, we dwell in Him.

All aspects of life are lived out in the presence of God, who cares about every one. Realising that the whole of life belongs to God is essential if we are to serve him effectively.  Give every aspect of your life to God, praying that you may experience his presence in it all. The blessedness of God is waiting for us, even in the dark days of our lives. Whether we can see Him or not, he is there: He sees us.  He freely offers us forgiveness, redemption, the chance to renew ourselves in Him, to consecrate ourselves to Him.  Let’s pray to Him to open our eyes to His presence!