Suffering with hope

Lyme Disease and the Imagery of Sin

It’s been twenty years since my health began to decline for unknown reasons and it’s been six years since I first heard the words “Chronic Lyme Disease” (or for you science folk, Borrelia Burgdorferi that’s taken up residence long enough to impact countless systems in the body and become resistant to treatment). Like many others, years of doctors, searching, dead ends, failed treatments, drained finances, vague diagnoses, and frequent discouragement, I was finally led to a doctor who connected the dots. Since 2015, Lyme Disease and it’s various co-infections has demanded much of my attention, while doing my best to live as normally as possible. If that weren’t enough, unbeknownst to me at the time, my active infection was passed onto all four of our children, creating chronic health challenges that impact every aspect of our family life. 

A few years back, as I was thinking of all the ins and outs of this mysterious bacteria (and all it’s bacterial, parasitic, and viral friends, which no one is immune from; it struck me how strangely similar the characteristics of Lyme Disease are to that of the workings of sin in our lives and the world around us.

Before we get there, though, I want to be clear on one very important difference between the two: Chronic Lyme Disease is not a result of our own personal sin. It’s an external enemy that enters our lives as any other disease might due to the simple fact of living in a fallen world under the curse of sin. Although CLD is a horrible disease that can impact every part of our lives, its consequences will not extend beyond this world, whereas the consequences of sin (apart from Christ’s forgiveness) will last for all eternity. Therefore, while I’ve found it interesting and helpful to consider how the characteristics and impact of the Lyme bacteria strangely mimic that of sin at work, this point is important to distinguish. But even still, I believe we can see good and evil at work in all spheres of life – including the illnesses that plague us – and we can therefore apply scripture and be encouraged by God’s redemptive and sovereign hand within all of it. 

Lyme Disease and the Imagery of Sin  

Much of the world denies its existence 

Why this is, remains a mystery to many. But similar to sin, much of our medical world resists diagnosing Chronic Lyme Disease. Even after multiple positive tests of various kinds, and personally seeing Lyme Spirochetes active in my blood through a microscope, I continue to be told by mainstream doctors that there is no such thing as Chronic Lyme Disease and that I’m foolish for being duped into believing that there is. Sadly, I’m not the only one – this is the life of hundreds of thousands of men and women suffering in silence. 

Because CLD tends to impact multiple body systems and create vague and random symptoms which seem to have no connection to one another, it’s often misdiagnosed as countless other ailments while failing to identify the root problem. For some doctors, it’s because CLD is a complex disease and difficult to recognize if it’s outside of their realm of experience (since it’s certainly not in their med school textbooks). For others, it’s simply an unwillingness to admit its existence because it goes against what they’ve always believed. Too many suffering people walk away hearing “it’s all in your head” or “you look fine to me”, rather than finding the help they desperately need. 

I find it fascinating that this is how the world deals with sin as well. We call it everything but what it is: “Weakness, mistakes, being human, etc.” But if we don’t call it what it is, we’ll only treat the symptoms of sin, rather than dealing with the root of sin itself. As it says in Proverbs 28:13, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” We can deny sin’s existence in our life as much as we want, but denying sin also denies the mercy and forgiveness that is ours through Jesus Christ. It also allows sin to do greater damage to our spiritual health. Just as a doctor may not want to admit he might be wrong, human nature doesn’t want to admit that we are lost, dead in our sins, and helpless to help ourselves. But for those who do name sin for what it is and declare Jesus Christ as Savior, the Bible tells us that we will live like sheep among wolves. Not only will many reject the truth, they will reject us for believing it.

Sound familiar? Like sin; a doctor, friend, or family member may deny the existence of Lyme in your body, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Do you know what brings me comfort in those moments? Jesus knows what it’s like to be rejected and not believed. “The stone (Jesus) the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22-23).” Jesus was who he said he was, but he was rejected by those who refused to believe. Nevertheless, the truth was the truth and God remained sovereign over every moment of it – even the rejection of his Son. Although the pain of mankind rejecting Jesus must have grieved him, his greatest pain was experiencing the wrath of his own Father. And he endured it all for you and I so that, even if we may be cast aside or rejected by those around us, we will never be rejected by our Heavenly Father. 

Friend, if you have felt the sting of rejection or being disbelieved, you not only have a Savior who has been there and can comfort you in it, you have a sovereign God who longs for you to come to him with your hurt, rejection, pain, and weariness because he will never forsake or reject one who comes in need of his comfort and strength. And when you do, you will not only receive the mercy, comfort, and peace of Christ, you will become a beacon of hope to a lost world. As Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Let your pain of experiencing rejection and long-suffering lead you to rest in the comfort of Christ and, in turn, offer that hope and comfort to a world that is desperately sick and in need of a Savior.

It attacks and manifests itself uniquely in each person

Borrelia burgdorferi is an incredibly smart bacteria and unique from any other. When it enters the body, it paralyzes the immune system in order to fully enter the body before the immune system has a chance to know it’s under attack. Even more, its spiral shape drills holes in muscles, joints, and tissues, and knows how to hide itself in places where it’s less likely to be detected. If that weren’t enough, it knows how to mimic many other diseases; it knows how to change its molecular level when it recognizes a threat that might destroy it; if it’s attacked, it’s like a beaded bracelet that can break off a piece of itself in order to survive and begin to replicate undetected once again; and lastly, it can turn the person’s own immune system against itself so that the very thing God created to work in perfect order (the human body) becomes its own enemy. Therefore, while one person may deal with joint pain, another may deal with psychological impacts. While one person may deal with body aches and various inflammatory issues, another may deal with an imbalanced thyroid and all the ramifications of it. Sadly, many deal with all of the above at the same time.

Much like the craftiness of Lyme, even after we become Christians, the battle with sin remains and manifests itself differently in each of us. We all have our weak points where we are more vulnerable (to both disease and sin). This is why we aren’t to fixate on the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3). It doesn’t end up helping anyone! But God calls us to cry out to him, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24)!

It does us no good to make excuses for our sin or to compare to others who seem “worse” than us. It’s in acknowledging our own areas of temptation and sinful tendencies that we take steps toward bringing the darkness into the light and pave the way for Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and power to bring greater healing and freedom to our lives. Much like persevering in treatment for Lyme and any other chronic illness, we must persevere in fighting against the sin that permeates our lives – not to earn God’s favor or forgiveness, but to walk in the freedom, righteousness, and wholeness that is ours in Christ. 

We grow weary in the battle and are tempted to give up the fight. 

If you have battled CLD or any unacknowledged chronic illness (or know someone who has), you know how easy it is to grow weary and discouraged. Not only is there very little support, but it’s draining on your finances, daily life, and physical, emotional, and mental well-being. After years of pouring energy into treatment and sacrificing so much along the way, you can find yourself right back where you started if a stressful event over taxes your immune system, allowing the remaining bacteria to gain ground once again. I will be the first to admit that in those discouraging seasons (of which there have been many), it’s tempting to resign yourself to a poor quality of life and give up the hope of healing. 

I don’t know about you, but I often feel this way in my battle against sin as well. As soon as we let our guard down or allow old patterns to return, we find that “sin is crouching at the door, eager to control (us). But (we) must subdue it and be its master” (Genesis 4:7). I grow weary in the fight, don’t you? Similar to how we see greater evidence of disease the more we increase our fight against Lyme, we become more aware of our sin the closer we move toward the righteous of Jesus (our ultimate Healer). Because of that, it can be easy to grow discouraged and weary, feeling as though we’re getting sicker, when in reality, we’re simply seeing the magnitude of the battle more clearly and waging war against an enemy that won’t go down without a fight. 

Here’s what we have to remember, both in our fight against CLD and sin – we aren’t called to fight in our own strength. Jesus came to save our souls for eternity and calls us to walk in righteousness, but he also cares about our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Just as we must “fight the good fight of faith” in the strength of the Holy Spirit, we must press on in our pursuit of physical healing (to whatever extent possible in our lifetime), while ultimately trusting the outcome to his good plan. That may look different in different seasons, depending on finances and other circumstances, but this truth always remains – we can honor the Lord right where we are. We may not have full energy or the ability to do all that we wish we could, but we can honor the Lord by allowing his strength to be shown through our weakness (2 Corinthians 4:7). In those seasons, invest your energy in praying for wisdom and guidance in your pursuit of health, cling to his Word and truth on days you feel tempted to despair, and simply rest in the comfort, acceptance, and love of Jesus even when bound to a bed. In both sin and illness, our hope is not in eradicating it’s presence. It’s resting in the presence of the One who has ultimately defeated both through his own sacrifice. This leads me to the final truth that we must remember…

Jesus will redeem both

Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead not only purchased forgiveness and eternal salvation for all who would believe, but he will one day redeem the painful effects of living in a world suffering under the curse of sin. He not only bore the pain of our personal sin, he bore the pain we feel when we watch a loved one die, when we lay in bed in agonizing pain, when we experience the anguish of rejection, and when we feel overwhelmed by the rampant evil all around us. He felt it all – beyond what you and I could ever imagine. And yet, this incredible reality not only means that he can empathize with us in every form of pain and suffering, he promises that none of it will be wasted. 

If you are a Christian, God is using everything that touches your life to conform you to the image of His Son, loosening your hold on this world, and giving you a greater love for Christ. When you feel rejected by others, but experience the sweetness of his comfort, he is redeeming your pain by drawing you closer to him through it. As you experience the emptiness of what the world offers and realize how fleeting it is, you are being redeemed as your heart grows heavenward and you learn to live in light of eternity.

But even beyond that, our salvation in Jesus means that one day all will be fully redeemed in his presence. Our battle with sin will be no more, the effects of sin in the world will be no more, and our sinful, sick, broken bodies will be resurrected: perfectly holy, new, healthy, unblemished, and eternally secure. 

Brother or sister, if you battle Chronic Lyme Disease, know this – your identity is not in your illness, just as a sinful nature is no longer your identity if you’re a child of God. CLD and the way that it wreaks havoc may frequently remind you of the fallen world we live in and tempt you to grow weary, but may it also be a reminder that, just as sin won’t have the last word, neither will your illness. God is sovereign over every molecule, bacteria, and ion in this world, and although he may allow it for a time, we know the end of the story. Press on, fighting in the strength of Christ while also resting in his comfort and the eternal security that is yours in him. As Psalm 118:13-14 reminds us,

“I was pushed hard (by the enemy), so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

The enemy may be at work, taking advantage of every opportunity he possibly can to turn us against the Lord and render us useless for the Kingdom, but the Lord is our strength and our song, and he (not earthly healing) has become our salvation. May this insidious illness be redeemed by God to be an example to those around us of the sufficiency of His grace amidst pain, his faithfulness amidst difficulty, his comfort amidst rejection, and his hope of salvation amidst the hopelessness of everything else in this world. Praise be to God who reigns, sustains, and redeems – even in pain that no one sees or believes but him. 

Home is around the corner,

Sarah

You can read more in Sarah and Kristen’s book, Hope When It Hurts or Jeff and Sarah Walton’s book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts (spring 2020) here or on Amazon. To hear more of their story, you can watch the book trailer here- https://youtu.be/CFYFYuS-uwo.

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