Being single and sick doesn't have to be a terrifying experience

Being single and sick is one of life's most frustrating situations, but we have more control over it than we may first think.

I speak from experience. As you're reading this, I'm undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. This is the second time I've had cancer.

The first time, when I was 25 years old, was probably the scariest period in my life.  When you're that age, you have your entire life ahead of you.  You have plans.  There are so many things you want to do.  And, no matter how mature you think you are, it's a petrifying experience.

But this time, when I'm older, fear hasn't overwhelmed me, and I'd like to tell you why.

Single and sick: Being real about it

Back in 1976--before many of you were born--I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. That's as frightening a diagnosis for a man as breast cancer is for a woman. Following the surgery, the doctors ordered 55 cobalt radiation treatments.

I began to doubt whether I would survive the cure. For three months I had daily diarrhea, vomiting, and breathing problems. My weight dropped to 110 pounds. When you're single and sick and have your whole life ahead of you, battling cancer is pretty scary business.

The treatments kept the cancer from spreading. After five years I was considered cured. However, for the next 20 years I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome because of the intense radiation.

Maybe that's more than you care to know. I just want to give you the background so you know my lessons on being sick come from firsthand experience.

I know the frustration, the depression, and the overpowering fatigue of chronic illness. I also spent a lot of time arguing with God.

Single and sick: Is there an answer?

Not that God argued back. I kept asking "Why?" until I was blue in the face. No explanation came. No great wisdom.

The closest thing to an answer came from a wise Catholic nun who I met in the hospital. She told me that human beings have an animal nature, and all animals get sick. It wasn't really satisfying, but you can't argue with a fact.

Maybe the experience touched off my determined quest for God. I began reading the Bible in earnest, praying more, and listening to Christian radio.

The more God revealed himself to me over those 34 years, the more I became convinced of one life-changing truth:

God does not punish his children.
He loves us too much to do that.

Don't misunderstand. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you're gambling with your soul and the potential of hell. Sorry, but that's what Jesus said, and he never lied.

But as far as illness or disability are concerned, they are not a punishment from God. I don't know the reason for them, but I know what they're not.

I didn't always believe that, but over the years that's what I came to learn.

The mystery of suffering

Suffering stinks. I avoid it whenever possible. When I can't avoid it, I ask God to give me the courage to get through it, as I have to now. The astounding part is that he does!

I didn't learn why we have to suffer. People have been debating that for thousands of years, and I have no clue. The only thing I discovered is that through the power of God, we actually can endure it and sometimes rise above it. Joni Eareckson Tada has been a great inspiration to me and millions of others on how to accept God's strength to deal with your illness.

We can waste a lot of precious energy and time repeating that "Why?" question. I did. Don't you waste time and energy you could put to better use. Learn from my mistake. Don't go there.

Here's what you can control

Okay, if you're single and sick, here's the take-home lesson from my 30+ year struggle. Life (not God) is going to beat us up at times, but it doesn't have the power to beat our spirit, if we refuse to let it.

That's why I'm so sold on God and Jesus Christ. I couldn't face this current cancer on my own, but thank God I don't have to.

I've learned that God is real, he loves me, and he'll pour all the power into my spirit that I need. When the going gets tough, that's what really counts.

My family and friends have always stood by me and encouraged me, and they're doing that now. I hope you have that same kind of support. Don't be too proud. Accept the help people want to give you. They're trying to be Jesus to you. Let them.

Your spirit, that secret place inside you, is your bastion of stength against whatever you face. It can grow weary too, so don't give up on praying or asking God for strength. He'll recharge your spiritual batteries.

You can rest in God when you're too weak to pray. He understands. Of course, you don't have to be physically sick to go to God for strength and comfort. He'll help you in your emotional illness as well.

Being single and sick doesn't have to overcome you. I fully expect to complete my treatment and keep doing what I'm doing. But I can't do anything worthwhile by myself. You and I can only make it with the love and help of God. Never forget that.

Important Update:

The article above was written six years ago, and I have been cancer free since that time.  I followed my doctors' orders, took the necessary precautions, and am healthy today.

Trusting God when you're single and sick is hard, very hard.  But it's the wisest way to go.  Worrying doesn't help.  Getting angry only makes things worse.

I am living proof that God stands by his people.  He'll stand by you, too.  Never forget that.

When times get tough...

Whether it's physical illness, emotional trauma or both, here are a few coping strategies I've used over the years:

  • Live in 'day-tight' compartments. Set your goal to make it until bedtime. Live one day at a time, not regretting the past or worrying about the future. Jesus said each day has enough trouble of its own.
  • Look at the cross. If you have doubts that God loves you, get a small cross and hang it in your home where you'll see it every day. The Father sacrificed his only Son for you, and Jesus volunteered for the punishment we deserve so his followers could be saved. No matter what happens to you, the cross confirms God's unending love for you.
  • Don't lose your sense of humor. Laughing actually releases good chemicals into your body. It's true! Besides that, it's like a cool drink of water for a thirsty spirit.
  • Don't worry about praying. Sometimes you're in so much pain you can't concentrate to pray. Some of our best prayers are simply the name "Jesus" or "Father" repeated over and over. They know what you need. They care. They hear the wordless cry from your heart.

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