chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

June: Presence of the Divine (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 7 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.


Part II: Summer: Making Connections (June to August)

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it

(1 Corinthians 12:26-27)


Summer is a season for making connections. Winter symbolizes a season of isolation, while spring represents a season of personal healing and renewal. Summer, in contrast, epitomizes the relationships that positively address isolation. This season spurs on the friendships that provide a place for sustained healing and growth. 

I enjoy hosting groups at the house for gatherings during this warm season. Out in the backyard, where I grill, a small group often forms around the barbeque to converse and exchange ideas. The time spent together is as much about the joyful fellowship as it is about good food. 

Summer provides contexts to make these connections: break from school, exercising in the evenings with a friend, auditing classes and reading books, family vacations, walks in the park with the dog, day trips, and church retreats. Relationships flourish with lighter schedules and longer days.

In this season, focus on your relationships both with God and others. In particular, consider the role that these connections might have on your healing from chronic health conditions or other difficulties in your life.


June: Presence of the Divine

Matthew 1:22-23

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.


Devotional

Jesus makes fellowship with God possible by removing the distance and barrier of sin that separates people from God. Paul declares that Jesus became the peacemaker even as humans made God their enemy: For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10). His amazing work on the Cross allows people to humbly receive grace, mercy, and healing before His throne. Indeed, at his throne God reconciles relationships that become the vital source of nurture and strength like a branch connected to a vine (John 15:1-6).

This deep-seated connection with God energizes and empowers in this season of light, warmth, and gladness. During Christmas celebrations, Christians remember “Immanuel,” which the Gospel writer tells us means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23). Immanuel reminds us what Jesus said to his followers before leaving them. He declared in the Great Commission that he would be with them to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, the Good Shepherd leads us out of the dark valley into green pastures and right paths (Psalm 23:4).

God’s presence is a powerful force in dark times. When I first moved into my university dorm I teared up after my parents dropped me off. I felt alone and afraid. I didn’t easily make friends at that age, partly due to the isolation I felt with a stigmatized and visible skin disease. I ate alone at many mealtimes in the dorm dining commons. One day I imagined that Jesus sat next to me in the empty chair. He didn’t care what my skin looked like. Jesus’ comfort overwhelmed me as I no longer felt by myself in the corner of the dining commons.

Believers over the millennia have engaged in spiritual practices and disciplines to enter God’s presence. This month’s focus is on prayer that connects you with him.


Opener

Share a time when you experienced God’s presence in the “dark valley.” What happened and how did His presence help you?

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chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

May: Hope of Renewal (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 6 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.


Part II: Spring (March to May)


May: Hope of Renewal

2 Corinthians 5:1-4

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Isaiah 53:5

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.


Devotional

The body I dwell in is only meant to be a temporary home. It is broken, weakened by the Fall where sin and death entered the world. Those who experience disease, illness, and sickness understand the longing for a new “tent” to embody. Those at home in this world find out soon enough how broken it is. Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, would find death knocking once again at a future time (John 11). The suffering heart longs for a permanence greater than health and prosperity on this earth.

Paul knew this truth better than most. Besides struggling with the thorn in his flesh, he constantly faced death at the hands of his enemies. While he knew God continued to desire to utilize him for a higher purpose, he longed to be with his Savior. He explained his situation in his letter to the Philippians:

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:21-24). 

Later, during Emperor Nero’s reign, tradition tells us that Paul’s beheading allowed him to be with his heavenly Lord.

At the end of spring, one finds that even healing in this world is not enough. Ultimate healing will come at the end when the heavens and earth, including this earthly body, is renewed. I look forward to a fully functioning immune system and a body that does not age or sustain constant inflammation. The hope of renewal, including a new body, sustains in the meantime. 


Opener

What are ways you observe the brokenness of this world—that it is not the way it was meant to be when created? List examples that relate to health and illness.

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chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

April: Love Poured Out (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 5 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.


Part II: Spring (March to May)


April: Love Poured Out

Romans 5:3-8

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Devotional

If Paul did not receive healing from the thorn in his flesh, I reasoned, then I might not receive healing either. At the same time, I figured God allowed me to endure it for a purpose. Like the man born blind, his inability to see led to a great miracle that pointed to God’s power: “’Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).

The way Paul interpreted those events of his life provoked me to think of chronic illness and suffering differently. Amid my dark time of false hope and taking ineffective treatments, I heard these words: 9 But he [God] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I allowed the idea of boasting about weakness and allowing God to work through my limitation to sink in. Psoriasis did not make me less of a person; instead, it led me to be a better follower of Jesus.

God’s love is not only found in removing suffering and sin as many would desperately seek. It is found in the acts of love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Through the incarnate Jesus, God understands what it is to suffer and provides the grace, love, and help needed to persevere and heal. Through the springtime of renewal, a new perspective blossoms—one that sees and believes that the Father is working out all things for His good, for those called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).


Opener

James writes to “consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds” (1:2), and Paul talks about glorying in suffering (Romans 5:3). What kinds of trials and suffering have you faced in your life? Have you thought about their role in your understanding of God and His love?

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chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

March: Grace Sufficient (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 4 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.


Part II: Spring (March to May)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

(Psalm 121:1-2)


Renewal arrives in springtime. Each spring I enjoy watching the shrubs and rose bushes in the front yard that appeared dead during the winter come to life. At the first sign of spring, they emerge from their slumber to reveal a vast array of colors and creativity. Their outer barrenness gives way to a blossoming inner strength of beauty.

The psalmist on his difficult pilgrimage to Jerusalem and exclaimed, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Help is just beyond the horizon. One only needs to look up, the psalmist might say, when staring down at the ground in despair.

Spring represents redemption, hope, and healing. The potential burgeoning of faith and hope exists beneath the painful external circumstances that those undergoing trial and illness endure. The darkness of winter makes the light of spring appear that much brighter. The journey to emotional and spiritual wholeness begins by looking up to the Healer.


March: Sufficient Grace

2 Corinthians 12:7b-12 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


Devotional

I began to look up to God during those six weeks I spent at the Psoriasis Research Institute in Palo Alto, California as a high school graduate. Amid seeking God for answers, I asked if he would heal my psoriasis.

Some during that time would say “yes”—with a caveat. In the late eighties a false theology, dubbed the “health and wealth gospel,” spread to some Christian circles. Champions of the health and wealth movement argued that Jesus promised healing for those expressing truth faith in him. They also taught a manifold financial return for those who sowed a right seed—typically marked by giving money to their ministries. 

I wanted to believe their claims, but no amount of faith healed my psoriasis. I imagined a conversation with a faith healer where he told me that I did not have enough faith. Then, at the Psoriasis Research Institute, I read about Paul’s thorn in his flesh. He describes to the church at Corinth how he prayed three times for God to remove it. Scholars do not know exactly what the thorn was, but some suggest he had an eye condition or some other physical ailment. 

God’s response revealed that the thorn served a greater purpose in keeping Paul humble and dependent on God. Indeed, the greatest purpose in suffering is not to remove or relieve the suffering. Rather, it is to find hope and meaning within it. In a show of sovereignty and commitment to higher purposes, God chose not to heal Paul—a man of great faith and leadership. 

Paul received grace sufficient to handle whatever came his way. We can discover that same faith each day.


Opener

Think of a difficult time when your perspective changed from negativity and pessimism to faith and hope. What helped you come out of that dark mood?

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