No longer “useful”…
What was the highest emotional hurdle for you, when learning to live with your chronic illness?
For me, it was not feeling useful anymore.
About two years into my illness I sunk into a deep depression. I felt like such a burden. I sorely missed being busy and active and productive. Hopelessness engulfed me for a season.
Not only did I feel like a drain on family and friends, I also felt painfully un-useful to God. It was heartbreaking.
… but still “fruitful”
Gradually — through the blur of grief, as I tried to make sense of my “new normal” — a very important spiritual reality came into focus:
I may not be productive anymore, but I can still be fruitful.
From that point, a seedling of hope took root.
I began to understand that my life was not without purpose (contrary to what my grieving mind had been telling me!). Although my body was failing me, my spirit — who I am — could still thrive.
Slowly, I started to believe, deep in my heart, that it was still worth being alive (something I hadn’t been so sure about when I realised, at age 35, that I may never be well again).
God, the gardener
If you feel like you’ve lost your usefulness, please don’t give up. I know you feel like giving up, but God has so much in store for you… in heaven and even here on earth.
Today’s post is about God, the gardener of our souls. He is a master at making beautiful things grow within — not in spite of, but as a result of — the bleakest seasons of your life.
Sickness is not an obstacle to God’s plan for your life. You are just as valuable to God now as you ever were, and you can still be renewed inwardly day by day. (2 Cor 4:16)
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.“ (John 15:1-3)
You might be wondering, What does Jesus mean when he talks about bearing fruit?. In part 2 of the series I’ll talk about this in detail, but for now I’ll try to summarise it in just one sentence. (I find brevity particularly challenging!)
A fruitful life is a life characterised by love; everything else flows from this. (John 15:12, Phil 1:9, 11)
Two things to keep in mind:
1. Fruit takes time to grow, and not every season is fruitful.
Have you ever seen a tree that’s been pruned? Not pretty. But wait a while and the branches that are now bare will bloom again, and be even more fruitful than before.
During some seasons in life we might feel particularly bare, no matter how much we’re trusting in God. Try not to lose heart in those tough times; God is pruning you.
2. Compost is stinky and unpleasant, but it makes plants thrive.
Have you ever walked past a garden that’s been fertilised with Dynamic Lifter (chicken poo)? Not a pleasant smell. A good gardener knows how to enrich the soil, and excrement is one extremely effective option! Another is compost, which is equally unpleasant.
Waste and refuse making beautiful things grow… Isn’t it a strange paradox?
How the Bible views hardship
The Bible talks quite a bit about suffering. One of the main messages is this: God can use suffering to bring about spiritual growth. Suffering acts like compost. We can take great comfort from this!
The writer of Hebrews instructs us to “endure hardship as discipline” (in the sense of training, not in the sense of punishment).
“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)
The Bible teaches that suffering is part of living in a broken world. And the good news is: God is able to make something beautiful out of something painful.
I’ve certainly seen this in my own life. As I’ve stayed connected to God, he has used hardship to help me grow.
Now I’m a more compassionate person than I used to be. Because I’ve experienced long seasons of grief and depression, I intuitively empathise with others who are grieving. Thanks to God’s painful pruning of my soul during those barren seasons, a spiritual harvest is now growing, just as Hebrews 12 promises. God has carved his character deep into my heart, and made it possible for me to comfort others with the same comfort he has given me. (Rom 5:3-5, 2 Cor 1:3-4)
Take heart! God can do the same work inside of you as you stay connected to him.
Now that I’m physically weak, I am forced to be more reliant on God. My self-reliant, stressed-out spirit is slowly becoming a more God-dependent, peace-filled spirit. My weakness has served to strengthened my trust in our all-powerful God, who never grows weary (Isaiah 40:28-29, 30-31).
Be encouraged! Our great God can do the same work inside of you as you stay connected to him.
How to become more fruitful
Did I become more compassionate by being a super strong and amazing person? No! I’m a very average person. (Just ask anyone who’s ever lived with me!)
Did I gain more inner peace by following special techniques and being spectacularly self-disciplined? Ha! You’ve never met me but I can tell you: self-discipline is not one of my fortes…
Well then, how did I produce this spiritual fruit?
By staying connected to Jesus. By screaming out to him when the sorrow hurt too much. By asking him to keep hold of me when I wasn’t strong enough to hang on to him.
Jesus has achieved these things through me, because he is super strong and amazing. The good news for you is: Jesus has promised to achieve the same things through you when you stay connected to him. (John 15:5)
What happens when we stay connected to Jesus?
As we keep our eyes on Jesus, spiritual “fruit” will grow in our lives – because God is able to make it grow.
Fruit that can sustain us through the hardest of times: joy, peace, patience, self-control.
Fruit that can nourish others, for God’s glory: love, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
Fruit that is sweet and good, in a body that is broken.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.“ (John 15:5)
Father God, it’s so hard living with chronic illness. We miss feeling useful and strong and productive. But we thank you for your words of encouragement today, from our Lord Jesus. Help us to remember that he is the vine and we are the branches. We thank you for being the source of life. Please help us stay connected to you. And thank you for promising to make us fruitful. We want to keep growing, for your glory. Please sustain us. Please help us. We need you and we love you. Amen.
How can I help you grow?
1. Printable Resource Bundle
I’ve put together a seven-page downloadable bundle for you that’s:
- Based on the theme of suffering — and what God is able to achieve through the bleakest seasons of your life.
- Easy to follow and not too complex — suitable for fuzzy minds!!!
- Adaptable — you can do it individually, with a friend, or even with a group.
The bundle contains:
- Three short Bible passages, each with a set of reflection questions
- A Connecting with God page that’s filled with simple, creative and practical ideas.
I pray this resource will help you to persevere, and to find a sense of purpose, within your pain.
2. Cheat Sheet
This “Connecting with God” cheat sheet is a high-resolution graphic that’s suitable for downloading and even printing.
It’s designed to be a quick reference resource, to help you stay connected to God (1) in little ways, (2) even on bad days. (Tell me I’m not the only forgets to connect with God during a flare!! 😝)
If you don’t yet have a password for the resource library, click here.
But God, Wouldn’t I Be More Useful to You If I were Healthy? is written by Esther Smith, who blogs at Life in Slow Motion.
It’s a super helpful guide to that special kind of grief that we Christians with chronic illness experience: mourning the fact that we can no longer serve God in the ways we’d always hoped and dreamed. My only regret was not reading it sooner! It was published in the fourth year of my illness, after my most intense grief had passed (and after writing the first three posts in my Fruitful Series).
The e-book costs around $3; and if you find reading a challenge, you can download a professional-quality audio version of the book instead, for around $2.
(I’m not affiliated with this link in any way, and Esther hasn’t asked me to promote her book; I just found it so helpful that I couldn’t not mention it here!)
Images to share on Pinterest
Want to continue?
Go to Fruitful #2:
How to Be Fruitful — Even When Your Life Is a Mess!
Pruned willow tree: By David Hawgood, commons.wikimedia.org
Willow tree in bloom: By Terrence Hatch, publicdomainpictures.net