Four years ago I was at a friend’s house for dinner and bible study. There were twelve other students there and we were laughing and chatting. There were a million reasons for me to be smiling and energised — the dinner was hearty, the dessert was intensely sweet, the conversation was full of quirky humour and I didn’t really have a care in the world. Despite all of this, for absolutely no identifiable reason at all, I felt exhausted, a mighty fatigue, as though I had run a marathon that same day. I felt like the people in those anti-drugs ads a few years back who they portrayed as flat pieces of rubber against the couch. The best way to describe it, though years later I realise it could never be described effectively, is that I was like a character in a video game whose life was running on low. Life itself seemed to elude me.
That fatigue has gotten worse over the years and has seemed to have tripled since having a baby. That feeling as though I am drained of the vitality I have all the right to own at 28 years, has threatened my entire identity, which is wound up in my achievements, my ability to multi-task, my ability to learn and do fascinating things, the adventures I collect, my love of sport, and most recently my desire to be an excellent wife and mother. I often, in the midst of a bout of fatigue, fear what I have believed is the worse thing — to be too limited, too tired, too sick, to live my purpose.
I have been reading an amazing book called When Breath Becomes Air, written by an excellent neuroscientist who spent his life studying language and the brain in order to understand the meaning of his life. Just as he was about to graduate and see the fruit of his years of 100 hour weeks, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in his 30s. The erie thing about the book is that you could see his comprehension developing and his theories are fascinating but ultimately incomplete, like only half the face of a portrait, enough to see that the finished thing would have been beautiful, but not enough to appreciate that beauty. He was writing while he was ill, describing the dilemma of not knowing how long he had to live so struggling to decide how to live and what to focus on in his last years. He knew he had less than 20 years but it was also possible for him to die within a year. When he was well enough to function normally, he returned to his work, fighting chronic pain and fatigue to perform major surgeries. At other times he was in a hospital bed, being rehydrated after chemo, losing pounds and pounds at a time. In the last year of his life his health declined rapidly but he worked towards the deadline of his impending death to write one of the best books I have read.
I also recently came across a story of a woman who became paralysed from a stroke six months after her daughter was born. She was gorgeous and had everything she dreamed of yet suddenly loss the ability to move most of her body. She fought back, doing physiotherapy to regain the use of much of her body but remains in a wheelchair today. Her vitality was taken away from her completely — as what is life without the ability to move — yet she fought back and now is a phenomenal inspirational speaker and evangelist, encouraging others who struggle similarly and bringing the joyful promises of the Gospel to many.
Yet another girl I came across, Danielle Cosgrove, a friend of a friend this time, survived a terrible accident but was left with chronic pain more severe than childbirth, which she experiences daily. Despite the crippling nature of her pain, she continues to pursue excellence in her field of work and encourages people around the world who suffer like she does through online outreach and public testimony. She will no doubt flourish into a woman with a powerful voice and story, who impacts thousands.
What these three people have taught me, as my fatigue wrestles with my vision and purpose, is that there is no doubt that our bodies and minds are slowly dying and susceptible to innumerable diseases and circumstances that will hasten our decay. Yet in contrast to this fear-inducing truth, there is the greater truth of the human spirit, that it is not decaying, that while the flesh dies, the spirit’s fire blazes evermore. That even if we suffer the greatest impairment or pain in the flesh, our spirit remains unbeaten if we choose to hope, if we choose to believe, if we choose to fight, if we choose to let it thrive in the face of adversity.
One of the most amazing things about these three people, and many many many more people who thrive in the face of past or chronic trauma, is that their trauma and pain actually expanded their purpose, it gave them even more fuel to live perhaps a greater purpose than they would have if they had all the health and vitality they could want. They are what some call ‘supersurvivors’.
My quest for hope in the anxiety brought on by my fatigue has led me back to the Bible, to one of my favourite verses in Isaiah:
He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might, He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:29-31
What I believe God has taught me before, now and will continue to teach me is to fight. Fight to live my purpose, to make an impact, to live out my calling. And when I fight, fight with my spirit, with His Spirit in me. When I live, live by the Spirit. When I walk, walk in the Spirit. He showed me that nothing can get in the way of His purpose for me, not even illness or impending death. Because we were made firstly as vast and powerful spiritual beings with a small flesh covering. Our flesh is easily broken but God’s Spirit in us is unbreakable.
Because my mind is weak I will struggle sometimes to remember to live in the Spirit and to not rely on or be burdened by my decaying flesh. But never ever ever will I allow the weakness of my flesh to get in the way of me living my purpose by the power of God’s Spirit in me.