Today is my birthday. I'm 31 now, so it's back to kind of forgetting how old I am again until I hit 40 (don't even want to think about that that number!).
Birthdays are very different than they used to be. It's like that for everyone as they age but especially for those with chronic illness I think. Even on special days the pain is there and the thoughts of frustration/disappointment are not far behind, at least for me. When I look at my 53 year old mother or even my 77 year old grandmother I am so debilitated in comparison it's hard to comprehend. As the pain continues its increasingly difficult to imagine that life could ever be pain free on this Earth again.
I, like most people, want to live to see my daughter grow up and hopefully get married and have children of her own, but at the same time the thought of living another 20 years or more with this amount of pain, or worse, is frankly scary! Four years of increasing pain and debilitation has been hard enough, how will I manage to live three, four, or FIVE more decades of life like many of my family members that have gone before me?!
Of course there is no promise I will live to be 70 years old. I may die tomorrow....Praise The Lord, right?! Just kidding, well sort of. Lets be honest, the thought of dying and going to heaven or better yet, Jesus coming back to Earth to gather His children and the making of the new heavens and new Earth sounds pretty amazing when your pelvis is on fire and your legs/feet are crawling with pain. I mean to sit or stand for hours without discomfort or to run and be active without tiring as I do now sure does sound like Paul said in Philippians 1:21 "to die is gain".
But what about the beginning of that verse..."To live is Christ"? What does Paul mean? I admit I have days where I sure don't feel like my living has purpose for Christ or His gospel.
"If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." (Philippians 1:22-26)
Paul struggled with his desire to be with Christ and to remain on Earth, though not for the enjoyment of the things this world has to offer - relationships, milestones, entertainment, fulfillment of a healthy body - but he says "to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." In other words, Paul longed for heaven, but knew that if God kept him alive it was necessary and for a purpose - to tell others of the hope they can have through salvation in Jesus and spur fellow believers on in their faith and joy in the Lord for the glory of God.
And we can trust the same. That when feelings come and we just want OUT of our bodies, our situations, this world - that is ok and even good (if we are also and primarily longing to be with Jesus). And if there are days we want to remain on this Earth MAINLY for the purpose of sharing the good news of saving faith we have through Jesus' death and resurrection while enjoying some of God's blessings along the way - that's good too!
The problem comes of course when we want to be with Jesus and the thought of living even another day on this Earth seems like more than we can bear due to our failing body or life circumstances or discontentment. Thankfully the life and words of the apostle Paul can help us again.
"... "My [God's] grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
We know Paul endured significant suffering, a "thorn in the flesh" (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10). His life was not easy at all and as far as we can tell this "thorn in the flesh" was not removed during his lifetime, yet God's grace was sufficient for each day that he lived with hardship AND his life continued to have great purpose for the kingdom of God.
I may not be able to understand how I will make it through many more years, or even tomorrow, with continued pain and debilitation. I pray and hope that maybe I will one day in the future have a better quality of life on this Earth - oh how my husband and I long to "declare His glory among the nations" (1 Chronicles 16:24) - and a healthy body would allow us to do so. But I know that God will give me the future grace that I need for each day and each year that He plans for me to live, and that by that grace my life can have purpose.
So for today, all I know is when I die it will be for gain - O glorious day! However, until then, I live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and by God's grace for a purpose. And I must strive to be content in any and every situation (Philippians 4:11).