Taking Heart

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One of the difficult things about living with a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis is that the struggle is never-ending.  It’s not a matter of waiting it out or getting through the next few days. There is no surefire promise that tomorrow will be better. There are bad days, there are better days, but there are no free days.

And so after a difficult year, these past weeks I have found myself in a place of fatigue. I’m not only referring to fatigue in the physical sense, although there has been that too.  The fatigue I’m feeling is a mental weariness that comes from the constant battle and the effort it takes to survive and thrive in spite of the relentlessness of my physical struggles. There are days when I feel I don’t have any fight left in me.

One way this fatigue has manifested itself these past weeks is in my exercise. Several months ago I reached my goal of running two miles in 25 minutes and since then have been working to maintain that time and distance. I’ve struggled physically these past few weeks as the weather has changed and the winds have blown in allergens that have attacked my system. I tried an inhaled antibiotic which caused my asthma to flare uncomfortably and I’ve wrestled with extra congestion and exhaustion. In spite of these symptoms I’ve kept up my running, modifying my workouts on the days when my lungs refused to admit the extra air I needed for the increased activity.

I headed out for a run the other day.  The conditions were perfect. It was sunny, the air was clear and mild, and the fall colors formed a kind of rainbow against the brilliant blue sky. All this beauty I was observing with my eyes as I started my run. But my heart was heavy and remained closed to the splendor around me. All I could focus on was my labored breaths, the strain I felt as my body rebelled against what I was asking it to do. It took me less than two minutes to give up. I knew I should continue on. I knew I should push through. I knew I should persevere. The physical struggle was nothing new, but I couldn’t find mental strength. I stopped, turned around, and headed for home.

As I walked in the door I was greeted by a message from Jaime wishing me luck on my run and offering support. I stared at his message for a few minutes before sighing deeply, putting the phone down and walking back outside. I made myself start again. Just one mile I told myself. I can do one mile.

The same thing happened my very next run. This time I was on the treadmill. I started coughing and rather than jogging through it as I usually do, I got off the treadmill. This happened three times during the first twelve minutes. The third time I sat on the floor and dissolved into tears. I just couldn’t take hold of the strength I needed. I didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to triumph. I just wanted to quit. I prayed for strength. I gave myself a pep talk. I told myself I could do one more mile, this time no stopping. Just one miserable mile.

Even though I was able to run one mile those days, I didn’t feel a whole lot of satisfaction. It’s hard when I feel I’ve lost the mental fight. I want so badly to be joyful and give my best on the bad days, not only on the better days. But sometimes I fall short.

A line from that song Shirelles sings keeps popping into my head: “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said.” It’s true.  My mom has told me there’ll be days like this. And weeks like this. Sometimes even months like this. Jesus said it too in John 16:33. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Some versions say trials and sorrows. It’s not you might have trouble, or if you’re unlucky you will have trials and sorrows, but you will. We all do. Struggle, fatigue, hard days, it’s a part of everyone’s experience. But thankfully that’s not the whole story. First He said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me,” and continued with, “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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Taking heart means receiving courage, or confidence, or comfort from some fact. In this case, my courage, confidence, and comfort comes from the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome the ultimate battle over sin, death, and disease. I have trouble, but I have peace. Because He has overcome, He gives me the strength to overcome. That doesn’t mean that I will win every battle every time. There will be days when I give up. But because of Jesus there is a surefire promise that a better tomorrow awaits. Whether my healing comes in this life or the next, one day I will again run, uninhibited, free from this struggle, complete and whole again.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail. There’s an anchor for my soul. I can say ‘It is well.’

Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He has risen from the dead.

And I will rise, when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise, on eagles wings, before my God, fall on my knees, and rise.  And I will rise.

Lyrics from “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

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