Relying on the Savior during My Chronic Illness
I was starting a new semester of school, and my only goal was to survive the semester with decent grades. Doesn’t seem like too lofty of a goal, yet it was becoming more and more difficult. I was feeling increased dizziness, fatigue, and nausea, but I was unfazed (mostly just in denial). Every morning I woke up at 7 and dragged myself to class, feeling sick to my stomach and experiencing major brain fog. By the time I finished classes at noon each day, I was wiped. I knew I should stay on campus to study and finish my homework, but every day I hit a wall of exhaustion, and I had to go home and take a nap.
My naps consumed my whole day. Often I would wake up 5–6 hours later, even more stressed out about everything I had to do. And no matter how long I slept, I still felt just as exhausted. I had recently returned home from a mission where I had been sick with mysterious illnesses over and over, and each time I had received strength by relying on my Savior and I had been healed. I came home a transfer early and was able to find some answers before returning to school, but as the semester became more intense, I found my worst nightmare was coming true. My sickness was returning.
Within three weeks, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. There are many emotions that come with receiving a diagnosis after months of sickness that is hard to define. On one hand, I was so relieved. Relieved it wasn’t just in my head or something I was imagining. Relieved I had a path to follow. But the more I learned about my chronic illness, the more I learned that very often it had no set treatment, and it would probably take years to get my life back.
As the weeks wore on, treatments commenced, symptoms got worse, and my goal to survive the semester with decent grades seemed impossible. As I considered withdrawing from my classes, I was at a loss. Here I was, thousands of miles from home with the sole purpose of attending school and getting my education. If I didn’t do that, who was I? What role would I play? Would my life have any meaning? What would fill my time? Would I be judged for taking a break?
I was 22 and physically unable to go to school, to work, to even maintain a healthy social life. It was like God had pressed a pause button on my life, my hopes, my dreams. I felt stuck, unable to progress, unable to have any amount of control of my life—in the present and even in the future.
And then something happened that changed everything. I didn’t receive the blessing of healing that I so desperately wanted, but I did receive understanding that suddenly made everything about my situation bearable. On one particularly difficult day, I felt God had an important message for me, and as I sought it, I received an outpouring of direction, comfort, and peace.
I felt very strongly that this trial wasn’t some fluke that was interrupting my plan of happiness. This was the plan of happiness Heavenly Father had for me. It seems oxymoronic, a plan of happiness that was filled with daily suffering, but it was true. I learned to be happy, despite my dreadful circumstances. I did everything I could to seek out the sunshine and enjoy—really, fully enjoy—the “pause” that Heavenly Father had given me. I learned so much about myself and my limits. I learned more about others and how willing they were to sacrifice to help me. I joked that I had a half-life (because I literally slept 16 hours every day), but it was a very abundant life.
Over the next months and years, I was able to fully rely on the Lord. I had no idea when I would get better, which treatment or doctor would actually help, or when I would be able to resume school and progress toward my goals, but I knew to what source to look for hope. I knew that if I put my trust and hope in my own ability to heal or in various treatments or doctors, I would be continually let down, but because I put that faith, hope, and trust in God, the one person who will never let any of us down, I could press on.
The feeling of hopelessness usually came crashing down on me when I thought about the future, when I took my view off the “here and now” and tried to see where the end was. I could never see it, so it always looked daunting, insurmountable. No matter how well I was coping, as I looked into the seemingly never-ending road I needed to travel up ahead, my will would break. I would say, “I’m not strong enough. I just can’t do this anymore.”
On these days, I would break down and plead for a miracle. I would say, “Okay, Heavenly Father, I’ve learned a lot. Can I just be done now? Hasn’t it been long enough?” But usually I would be on my knees in prayer long enough that I would be humbled and say, “But if not, help me get through it. ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’”
And that was how the Savior ministered to me: one day at a time. He always let me know that He was aware of me. He always let me know that I was strong enough and He would never let me experience anything that He knew—with His perfect knowledge—that I couldn’t handle. He always gave me peace to carry me for at least one more day, and that was really all I needed. One day I watched a Mormon Message by Elder D. Todd Christofferson and started crying because he said exactly what I was feeling:
“When this [the trial] began happening in my life, my prayer was, ‘Give me a miracle; solve this problem,’ and it took a while to finally come to the point of saying, ‘I’m content to get daily help and let it take what time it takes, knowing that I am relying upon God.’ It’s been a blessing ever since … because of what it meant for my relationship with Him. Maybe the greatest blessing is to have to walk through it with Him.”
I am grateful for every day of sickness, because it taught me how to truly rely on Jesus Christ. Although I have a plan for my life that I think is awesome, Heavenly Father’s plan for me is always better. Every day I see new opportunities that are perfect for me and wouldn’t have been there had Heavenly Father not seen fit to press the pause button on my life.
During those trying times, He was not just preparing me for His kingdom, some far, distant goal at the end of the road. He was preparing me for today. Right now. He was preparing me for my very next step. Everything I have today is a result of those hard times I endured. My greatest blessings have come from the place Heavenly Father led me. It taught me how nothing I am and how strong I can be when I rely on His grace. To walk by faith. To not get too caught up in the future. To plan ahead but be willing to be led through every twist and turn of life. To allow Him to lead me, day by day.
Mary Ririe is a native Texan who just graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in civil engineering and will be returning to BYU this fall for a master’s. She is married and enjoys playing with her cute puppy and basketball (or basically any sport) with her husband.