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Comfort in Chronic Illness: Where Is God in the Storm?

Lori Smith at the Grand Canyon.

After a backpacking trip on Labor Day weekend, Lori Smith came down with what she thought was a summer cold. Twenty years later, she still has not recovered.

After years of testing and unexplained bouts of insomnia, fatigue, low-grade fever, and an inability to focus, Lori was diagnosed with Lyme disease, the result of a tick bite that fateful weekend six years earlier.

“I had gone from being a driven personality with a demanding dot-com job, a writing career on the side, ministry responsibilities, ballet classes — the kind of girl who could hike the Grand Canyon all the way to the bottom and all the way back — to being someone who struggled simply to work,” Lori shared. “And I didn’t know then that the darkness was just beginning.”

Lori had come down with multiple co-infections in addition to Lyme disease. With a suppressed immune system, Lori was vulnerable to other viruses and illnesses similar to what HIV patients develop. Lyme disease also affected Lori’s autonomic nervous system, compromising her ability to stand up without becoming dizzy or blacking out.

For years, Lori has sought treatment for Lyme disease. Intense treatments and high doses of antibiotics wiped out her energy and sometimes made her symptoms worse before they got better. Then, Lori tried natural treatments ranging from detoxes to IV treatments to high doses of vitamin C and more.

Nothing seemed to work, and Lori felt trapped in a body that couldn’t function.

These years of debilitating chronic illness left Lori clinically depressed and suicidal. She began to take anti-depressants, which helped counteract the effects of years of antibiotics depleting the production of serotonin in her gut.

All of this suffering made Lori wonder where God was. 

“I sought healing prayer and prayed with such faith, longing for an actual physical experience of touching Jesus’s robe, expecting to see him, to know his presence, to be dramatically healed,” Lori said. “God heals today—I believe this. And yet, in those early years, he said no to my prayers, and my heart broke.”

Lori felt no sign of God’s presence. But he was present. People who loved Lori surrounded her and met her in her pain and suffering. They made space for her to rest, to wrestle, to mourn, to lament, and to heal, perhaps in ways she couldn’t see at the time, but healing nonetheless.

Lori shared, “I struggled to feel God’s presence, but the people around me became the presence of God to me.”

From Lament to Gratitude and Back Again

Once Lori moved through that period of clinical depression, she entered a season in which she sensed the intimate presence of God. 

“I knew he was with me. I knew his comfort. Little had changed, and my circumstances were still horrific—to downplay what I was dealing with would also diminish the wonder of God’s presence,” Lori said. “I had great pain and yet I was sustained and comforted.”

Out of her lament, Lori was moved to gratitude, gratitude for her body, for God’s love, for friends and family who loved her, gratitude that gushed out of her like an overflowing stream, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” This overwhelming thanks and praise, and even joy during the darkest times, blossomed from God.

God has shown Lori so much during these long years of suffering. All of Lori’s notions of self-worth and value before God have been stripped away to reveal this one beautiful truth: God loves her. Not because of anything she has done or anything she will do, just because she is. Lori has been able to abide in the presence of God’s love for her like never before.

God has shaped her into a more empathetic person. He has provided knowledge and revealed the source of her illness, which brought answers that allowed her to name what’s wrong with her instead of feeling as if a mystifying plague had been given to her. He has made known aspects of his character that were foreign before. God is a God Who Sees, a God who mourns with us. He has shown Lori that even her laments are received by him, that every emotion we have can be poured out at God’s feet.

Despite the long journey Lori is on and the slow recovery she has experienced, she is still not well. “I continue to pray for complete healing. And sometimes as I get stronger, I realize the depth of what I’ve walked through,” Lori said. “Grief can still come in waves, and I mourn again all that I’ve lost through these long years.”

“I’m ready for it to be taken away, please and thank you!” Lori shared, laughing, before she continued. “As much as it has destroyed my life it’s also in some sense been the making of me. I know that God has used this to develop a deep empathy in me that I didn’t have before. I feel like my faith has been torn down and rebuilt. You can see God’s redemptive work in the midst of this.”

Lori’s understanding of God’s healing has evolved. “I love what we say during communion:  ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ As a writer, I love the tenses of those verbs. What came to me during healing prayer was this: ‘God has healed me, God is healing me, God will heal me.’ God has healed us spiritually, he continues to make us like him, and one day that work will be complete when we see him face to face. Physically, I believe it’s true for me too. God has done so much healing in my life, he is continuing to heal me, and he will heal me completely.”

Comfort for Dark Days

Out of Lori’s long struggle, God has produced great fruit. Lori has poured what she longed for during those dark days into a 7-day Bible study called “Comfort for Dark Days.” In it, she hopes those who may be going through, recovering from, or preparing for a dark season will find hope and comfort in her material.

So much of our church experience as American Christians sets us up to expect the days to always be sunny and the burdens to always be light. The pandemic is teaching us on a global scale what so many other believers throughout history have known: this simply is not so. 

“I felt like my faith hadn’t prepared me for this really dark season,” Lori shared, “but I don’t know that you can be prepared for them, until you’re in it.”

“We all at some point in our Christian lives face an experience where, if you look at your life and judge God’s goodness based on your circumstances, you will determine that God is not good,” Lori said. These moments can make us feel abandoned by God, even though he is right there, loving us, angry at the circumstances and grieving right alongside us. This is why Lori wrote this material: to help fellow Christians see God’s goodness in the storm. 

“It gave me so much JOY to create this and to see my years of pain being the catalyst for something good to bless others!” Lori said.

The seven-day study is intended to be something people can go through quickly but still experience deep, soul affirming encouragement. It addresses our fears of being abandoned and the pain of being unseen while providing practical exercises to help you re-engage with God in a meaningful way, whether you feel like it or not. 

If you’re in need of a guide to help you through those dark days right now, Lori’s “Comfort for Dark Days” can help. Learn more about “Comfort for Dark Days,” or connect with Lori on Instagram.

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