When I think of a daily devotional time, I picture concentrated efforts toward Bible study and prayer. And that’s what I committed myself to for many years. These times drew me near to God and made me aware of his presence and power in my life. After illness, however, my ability to have a lengthy and concentrated devotional time diminished due to declining energy, mental focus, and ability to handle stress—even the slight stress which comes with basic daily duties.
This lack of extended spiritual intake made me feel far from God and like he wasn’t as active in my life as before. I wrestled with feelings that he wasn’t pleased with me anymore and that I was a disappointment to him. I certainly felt disappointed with myself. To be honest, I still struggle with these feelings, but I am fighting to renew my thinking about what nearness to God looks like and what pleases him, especially for someone dealing with chronic health issues.
It is very encouraging to know that other people with chronic illness and pain live out Christian devotional lives that look “a bit different” than those who are healthy. Could it be that God extends special spiritual grace and power to those who are unable to intensely focus for long periods of time?
Something I read in Michael and Margaret Robble’s book, Always Sick, Always Loved encouraged me in this.
“Margaret’s Bible intake looks a bit different. With all her assorted health issues, it is very difficult for her to consistently read her Bible. So…each morning I read out loud to her….Though some days it is hard for her to concentrate through her waves of pain and fatigue, the Lord has faithfully given her sufficient spiritual food to persevere. Even if she can only focus on a single verse or part of a verse, God has kept her faith and trust in him consistently strong” (Always Sick, Always Loved, pp.176-177).
And consider this fantastic quote that Michael Robble shares by Margaret Clarkson:
“Suffering is seen as one of God’s means of enlarging the soul’s capacity for Himself, and sufferers are enjoined to seek God’s enabling that they may lose none of the present or future fullness that God would have them experience as a result…There is only one way in which a sufferer may come to realize the eternal good which is God’s purpose for him in pain, and that is by a close study of the Word of God. Sufferers often find it difficult, even impossible, to maintain a systematic pattern of Bible study; but God in His mercy has not forgotten such needy ones. Scripture abounds with what I like to call God’s fragments—a host of all-encompassing minutiae which, though fragmentary and seemingly unimportant in themselves, are nonetheless capable of nourishing and sustaining the seeking soul.” (p.177, Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter, pp.9-10).
Yes, yes, yes! I have experienced God’s comfort many times through a single line or phrase from the Bible or a song. I sometimes carry a few words in my pocket on a sticky note to feed my soul during the day.
God is pleased with the heart that longs for and draws near to him through Christ. Devotional times modified by illness and pain allow us to experience the Gospel of grace in an expanded way—to recognize that God is not pleased with us because of what we can do for him, but by our faith in what he has done for us through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is a spiritual advantage to drawing near to God regularly throughout the day, prompted by pain, discomfort, and desperation. It reminds us of our need for God and prompts us to connect with him and cast our cares on his eternal shoulders.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” Psalm 103:14, NLT
So when you are tempted to despair over your fragmented spiritual life due to chronic illness and pain, take courage! God understands and looks at your heart, not how many chapters you read or prayer lists you completed. Give yourself the freedom for your time with God to look different from those who are pain-free. I’m convinced that God often does not expect as much from us as we expect from ourselves. He knows our frailties—he knows we are but dust. So take a deep breath, catch truth where you can, and rest easy.
Question: Have you discovered any ways of nourishing yourself spiritually when you’re not able to have the ideal devotional life? Please share with us in the comments section below!