Do we ever see pictures of the chronically ill on the cover of a magazine? Is “I am sick” ever a slogan used to win a presidential election? Are the students who are too sick to go to school the same students voted prom queen and class president?
The answers to these questions may not be on the average persons’ radar, but all of them point to a question that suffering has a way of bringing to the surface: Does the fact that my life looks different (often way, way different) than so many “important” people in society mean that my life no longer matters?
I know that, at least based on my situation, I can say this: having a chronic illness does not increase your chances of popularity. You may not be great at making weekend plans when truly all you want to do is try to recover & prepare for the next week. You might not be able to work enough hours to afford a fancy car or flashy clothes that aren’t primarily hand-me-downs or Goodwill finds. You might not be able to join that intramural basketball team or go on that cross country trip you long to be a part of alongside your community.
Perhaps the reason I’ve taken note of this is because, well, I’ve definitely been a victim of “popularity”. I was the kind-of-crazy human being who packed my schedule full of extracurriculars, more than probably any of my other classmates. I ended up with a crown and awards because of it. And at the time, I needed those accolades.
But now? If I am too busy, I literally cannot function. Between coworkers and roommates and siblings, I fortunately do feel I’ve learned unique ways to maintain balance and connection. However, when it comes to commitments and making plans, I hold them very loosely while never being quite sure of how I will be feeling (and I despise this).
The problem a lifestyle such as this presents is this: our world does not provide platforms for others to shine in their suffering. In our society today, brokenness and fame are not in correlation. To suffer and to succeed are not synonymous.
Therefore, in order to truly continue thriving through seasons of suffering, one must make a conscious decision not to listen to society, and instead, make a constant, intentional choice to treasure the hard things.
Maybe it means less social activities but being truly present and authentic when you can do them. Instead of joining that intramural sports team, you find a friend and sign up for ballet. Instead of long runs, you go on walks with your neighbor.
And even when you really, really, have a terrible day and can’t get anything done besides a movie with your mom, you can choose to believe that still holds meaning.
So it’s true, walking through intense suffering may mean losing a little worldly fame and something just isn’t right about that fact. But, it’s also true that communities do exist who choose to fight this concept and instead acclaim what is authentic. And you know what I’ve found? The moment we stop trying to “keep up” and simply embrace whatever it is that is our reality, is often the moment we actually begin to find ourselves.
Walking through this process may mean our lives will be less flashy, but at the end of the day, maybe they’ll be more peaceful.