Thanking God In Illness

Like many of you, I’m sure, these past weeks our family has been struggling with the latest cold or flu that is going around. It’s hard to be sick yourself, but it’s especially hard to see your children hurting.

I think it’s common for the devil to try and taunt us while we’re down, whispering things like, “If God really loves you, why does He allow you and your kids to suffer like this?”

It’s a clever sounding question, and it can be confusing especially in the fog of pain (God forgive me, I know I have cursed illness or been frustrated at God because He won’t take the hurt away.) But like all thoughts which come from the accuser, making love and suffering opposite in the question itself is a lie. The question is founded on the false assumption that God’s love is always in sunshine and flowers, and not to be found within pain and suffering.

As Christians, the response to this lie can often be found right next to our heart in necklace form—the symbol of the Cross. This symbol has been borne by Christians for nearly 2,000 years now. Even though at first glance it may not be “pleasant” to see, the Cross is the reminder that God became man not to just take away our pain (which is the fruit of our sin), but to be with us in our suffering and lead us through it.

The God of Light, of unending joy, has joined Himself to us in suffering and death, giving us strength to endure it, and ultimately, to annihilate it. Because of His example, His death on the Cross, His descent into hell, His Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven, we can practice following Him even now when we are experiencing little deaths so that when we meet our real death, we are able to recognize Him and to follow Him into life everlasting.

Practicing this is very hard. In the midst of pain, it’s easy to get upset, to curse and to despair. But if we can remember that our loving God is right there hurting with us—His children—it becomes possible.

One way to practice recognizing and thanking God amidst suffering in a controlled way, for example, is if we have a headache. Mother Silouana, a very saintly abbess in Romania who passed away in 2021 speaks about this:

“Let’s say I got sick and something hurts. I accept that pain, I bless it and I pray – that is, I give my pain to God. But I don’t say: ‘Lord, take away my pain because I can’t think anymore with this headache!’

“No, we say: ‘Lord, come into my pain, help me live it, help me hear its message!’ What does this pain want to tell me? What sense does it make? The purpose of this pain is to notify the [brain], to identify its causes and heal it. There are substances in us, we are capable of producing substances that heal us, or which help us [overcome] the pain.

“But because we utter curses and say, ‘I have a headache again!’ then, instead of activating the ‘circuit of healing,’ we activate the ‘circuit’ of rebellion, of fear, of stress and the illness becomes more serious.”

Accepting the pain with patience in the presence of grace is the path to healing, even if we also use worldly remedies given to us by God as well. But we need that time when we accept the pain, we offer it to the Lord, we offer it and we receive healing. This time is the time of patience, the time of healing for our soul, for the powers of our soul sickened by sin. And the Lord says that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13) – that is, he will be free.

The question that is a lie is then transformed and becomes: “Isn’t it incredible how, even though we are suffering because of sin, God loves us so much to come and be with us and call us home to Him?”

Glory to God for all things!