The Reality of Living with an Invisible Illness

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Location: Sublime Point, Wollongong // iPhone 6.

Living with a chronic physical or mental illness can be a very isolating experience. Often these illnesses develop unexpectedly and the shock of going from healthy to unwell overnight feels like whiplash. The sufferer is left reeling, needing to readjust to a body and mind that does not work the way it used to. There is resulting grief over a life that feels limited in comparison to before. Most chronic physical and mental illnesses are ‘invisible’ – there are no instantly recognisable symptoms or signs of sickness. Many suffer in silence, faced with stigma and prejudice in a world that idolises health.

I’ve lived with chronic fatigue/pain and depression/anxiety for the last 9 years – you can read my story here. Now I’m seeking to give a voice to those who bravely persevere through illness every day, in the hope that the stigma surrounding chronic physical and mental illnesses (which I will refer to as ‘invisible illnesses’) may be lifted. The words I share are inspired by friends and strangers I’ve surveyed; I’m infinitely thankful for their courage and honesty.

…on guilt and expectations

Life is unpredictable when you live with an invisible illness. Every day you wake up not knowing how you will find the energy to cope with the small things, let alone the big things, when your body and mind are fighting against you. Choosing to go out one day often means sacrificing the next day (or three!) to rest, because you deplete a greater percentage of your energy and it takes twice as long to recover. It’s frustrating to watch people your own age do things you desire to do, but that you are physically incapable of. You worry people will think you’re lazy, when often people with invisible illnesses are actually the most driven – you have to be motivated to persevere through your illness!

The unpredictable nature of an invisible illness means that you often make plans, only to have to cancel them at the last minute. You feel guilty for not being able to push through and live up to people’s expectations, even though you cannot control your body or mind. You fear people will conclude that you’re unreliable and will stop asking to spend time with you, increasing your isolation. Every time you make plans, there is an internal battle between knowing that seeing people may make you feel better, but will cost you physically and mentally.

… on limitation and learning

Invisible illnesses can be incredibly limiting, requiring huge lifestyle change and a need to manage every detail of life. There is a sense of acute loss that accompanies this life adjustment. People with invisible illnesses are often restricted in the amount of work – both cognitive and physical – that they can do daily. Working and studying can so greatly deplete your mental and physical energy resources that there is little left over for interacting socially, impacting relationships with family and friends. You need to pace your activity and plan ahead in order to ‘budget’ your limited energy. Your decreased capacity may limit your involvement in extra-curricular activities like sporting groups and ministries. Management of invisible illnesses can sometimes also require dramatic changes in diet, which brings its own stigma and social isolation.

While being limiting, there are also many positives that come from having an invisible illness. People who face daily pain, fatigue and/or depression learn to empathise with others who suffer. Suffering is a universal aspect of human life, and when you suffer, it enables you to become more tolerant and accepting of those who also face adversity. There is a sensitivity and compassion that is unique to those who understand hardship. When you are restricted in what you can do on a daily basis, you become more aware of what is important in life, and learn to truly value the people around you. The stigma surrounding invisible illnesses teaches you to be more discerning and slower to make assumptions about people. Though illness can be very isolating, it also provides opportunities to form unlikely friendships with people who share similar experiences.

Living with an invisible illness also teaches you the importance of self-care. You become more aware of how your body and mind work, and learn to establish and maintain boundaries to protect you from pushing yourself beyond your limits. Having an illness enables you to adopt a slower lifestyle – to value rest and make space in life for reflection, meditation and prayer. You learn to be patient with yourself and others – to see weakness as an opportunity for growth. To cope with the mental and physical strain of illness, you learn strategies that empower you to be more intentional in everyday life.

…on fighting fear

Most people with invisible illnesses fear the impact that their illness has on the people they love. You worry that you will lose contact with friends and family; there is no greater fear than being alone. You fear that friends and family won’t understand how much your illness is beyond your control – how desperately you want to just be ‘normal’ again. You fear that new people you meet won’t see the real you, because initiating conversation and articulating what you think and feel is exhausting. Those who are single worry about finding someone who will accept them and see beyond their illness. Those who are married fear how their illness burdens their spouse and how it may impact their children.

Many fear how their illness will control their lifestyle, and limit them from living a fulfilling life. Often, the prognosis for physical and mental illness is either unknown or lifelong, so it impacts your whole life – not just a few days of your life like the average illness or stress episode. You fear how your illness will effect your independence and ability to achieve your life goals. You fear missing out on opportunities and experiences that others your age have. Many people with invisible illnesses worry about how the illness will affect them long term and fear relapsing or getting worse with age.

… on impacting others

Invisible illnesses don’t just impact those who suffer from them, but also those who do life alongside them. Family and friends often sacrifice time and energy into looking after you. Your illness can limit how often you are able to go out or where you are able to travel. You are grateful for the way your family and friends try to understand and accept you, illness and all, but feel guilt that you are hindering their enjoyment of life. Having an invisible illness can be eye-opening for those who are close to you, as your capacity decreases and you depend on them in ways you previously didn’t need to. You may have been the solid-rock, the dependable one, the one who always gave their time and energy into looking after others, but now you have to rely on others more. This involves learning that it’s OK – and actually loving – to allow someone else to love and care for you when you need it.

…on identity and empathy

When you have an invisible illness, it often feels like the illness defines you and controls your life. Changing your mindset and recognising that you aren’t defined by your illness is hard, but ultimately freeing. Your illness is part of your life, but it does not change who you are and the value you contribute to your relationships. Knowing who you are and being secure in your identity apart from your illness radically changes how you approach life. You can be grateful for what your body and mind can do, even though your illness may impact your physical and mental functioning. Know that your life has purpose that can be fulfilled even when you are weak – don’t judge yourself based on your own or others’ flawed expectations of who you should be.

Having a strong support system around you is so important for living with an invisible illness. It can be hard to maintain a wide social sphere, but finding a small, understanding group of friends to confide and invest in outside of your immediate family is vital. Connect with other people who share similar experiences with illness – you are in a uniquely valuable position to empathise with others who suffer. Having people in your life who truly understand makes living with illness less isolating. Seek help, and don’t be afraid to admit that you need support.  Use what you’re going through to reach out to others who suffer and to educate people on the nature of invisible illnesses.

…on caring and listening

For those who support a person with an invisible illness – the best thing you can do is to listen. People with invisible illnesses often get bombarded with (usually) well-intended ‘advice’ about how they should care for themselves and where they should seek treatment. However, for most of us, we’ve heard it all before – usually from the medical professionals who oversee our treatment. We know what we can do to get better and we’re already doing everything we can to be as well as we can be.

In relating to someone with an invisible illness, your ears are your biggest asset. Sometimes we just won’t want to talk about it, and that’s OK.  Recognise that until you have experienced a chronic illness yourself, it’s impossible to understand what people go through. Platitudes aren’t helpful, and for many, illnesses don’t just “get better” with time. People sometimes fear saying the wrong thing, so they avoid the subject of illness altogether – which can often be more hurtful than saying something insensitive. Being willing to sit for extended periods of time with open ears, ready to accept and not judge, can be the best way of supporting us.

The most powerful thing for a person suffering from illness is that you show you’re willing to be there to help them in whatever way they need. Saying you will be there for someone means walking alongside them for the long haul – however many months or years they will be affected by illness. Supporting someone with an invisible illness means being prepared to initiate communication and perhaps carry a greater load emotionally and practically. Learning what a person’s physical and mental boundaries are is so important. Believe us when we say we can’t do something and recognise we feel grief at having to say no. Be patient with us, and realise we don’t want to be sick any more than you would want to be!

Everyone’s life is unique, and not everything shared will be universally experienced. In writing this article I’ve sought to paint a vignette of what life can be like for the invisible illness sufferer, both from my own experience and the stories and survey responses I’ve collected. For those who read this who suffer from an invisible illness, I hope that you feel less alone and empowered knowing you have value and can live a fulfilling life, despite your limitations. For those who read this who know and support someone with an invisible illness, I hope you’ve gained some insight into their world, and how you can better care for them. Let’s keep fighting to break the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses!

Resources for people with invisible illnesses:

https://themighty.com/

http://www.invisibleillnessweek.com

https://invisibledisabilities.org/

http://thepillowfort.co.uk/PFC/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

I’d love to hear from you if you have an invisible illness – I’m hoping to one day write a book, and your input would be invaluable.

You can email me at music_is_my_language@live.com.au – or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, you can fill out this survey.

 

 

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If I’m Honest: Life with Chronic Fatigue

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“How are you?”

This phrase has to be one of the most common in the English language. These three little words automatically slip out in everyday conversation, with the reflexive response being “I’m good!”. A large percentage of the time though, that response isn’t accurate. If you were to ask me this question today, my honest answer would be this: “I am tired.” If you knew that I was a university student, that may not seem like an odd response. You would assume I had stayed up late the night before studying (or partying). You might advise me to go to bed earlier, to drink coffee, to eat better, to exercise more. Only, what if none of these things would make a difference to my level of tiredness? What if I told you I have been chronically tired for 8+ years?

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) since I was fourteen years old. It developed with little warning. I went from being a healthy, highly active, exercise-loving high-achiever (i.e. major nerd) to overnight being unable to get out of bed. One day I was performing in a gymnastics competition; the next day, I awoke to pain in every part of my body and an overwhelming, all-consuming fatigue that left me completely bedridden for 6 months. I recovered somewhat for a period of time but then relapsed. I was unable to walk or stand up for more than a few minutes without collapsing, and so for a time had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. My body could no longer tolerate foods I had been eating my whole life. At times, my brain was so foggy I couldn’t read, or speak in complete sentences. I couldn’t breathe properly to play my flute, and could only sit upright to play piano for very short bursts. My head ached 24/7 and bright lights and sounds made me cry in pain. Developing CFS radically transformed the direction of my life and my everyday functioning. A lot of this part of my life is a blur.

CFS is a complex syndrome – there are a myriad of symptoms, which vary in intensity and impact. The fatigue itself is impossible to describe – it is not simply tiredness; it is an overwhelming heaviness, a feeling of utter exhaustion to the very core of your being. It feels suffocating and it is inescapable. Unlike normal tiredness, sleep is not the solution. For the CFS sufferer, sleep does not reduce fatigue – you wake up tired, every day. Not sleeping of course makes it worse, and ironically overexertion (being ‘overtired’) often leads to insomnia. The fatigue is accompanied by chronic pain and inflammation in the joints and muscles. Everything hurts, all the time. Physical exertion (inc. walking and standing for long periods of time) leads to abnormally high levels of exhaustion that is not improved by rest and can last for hours (or days). The immune system has been compromised and thus people with CFS do not have the defense system to fight off common viruses – so you get sick, a lot! It is not just physiological – fatigue affects your ability to concentrate, think and process things. (There are numerous other symptoms, see links below.)

Though it affects approx. 2% of the population, CFS is still largely a mystery. There is no known cause, no medication for the treatment of it and no cure. The duration and severity of CFS varies between sufferers and can fluctuate dramatically over periods of time. Despite seeing every type of medical professional under the sun, to this day we have not been able to pinpoint why I developed CFS, or why it has persisted for so long. Over the past few years, my capacity has slowly increased, and while I still experience fatigue and pain on a daily basis and it fluctuates in severity, with each year I continue to improve. It has been a long journey, but I am finally studying at university – a reality that still surprises me every day when I reflect on where I’ve come from. While I am only able to study part time, it is still HUGE to be able to manage the travel and study. I have a job, though have had to take this semester off to allow my body to readjust. I can drive short distances. I am involved in ministry in my church. I’ve gone from not being able to walk down the street to sometimes being able to go for short runs, when my health is good. CFS is unpredictable, and there are seasons where my capacity is diminished, but I am thankful for every day of my life and for the incredible healing God has worked in my body.

One of the frustrating realities of living with a chronic illness like CFS is how hard it is for those who haven’t experienced it (or lived with a friend/family member who suffers from it) to understand. It is an ‘invisible illness’ – from the outside, I look perfectly healthy. The statement “looks can be deceiving” is so very true of a CFS sufferer. Only those who know me very well can tell the difference between me on a ‘good’ day and me on a ‘bad’ day (apparently it shows in my eyes). My limbs aren’t broken, my speech isn’t impaired, there’s no rash or scar to indicate that I am unwell. When I am at my very worst, I am in bed – so the true reality of my illness is not seen. I don’t like to admit that I am weak, and I usually try to hide how I am really feeling. Chronic fatigue is highly misunderstood – you can’t just “push through it”, you just have to manage it. I do everything in my power to embrace the limited energy and strength I do have so that I can live as ‘normal’ a life as possible. Going out, studying at uni, exercising – these all come with a cost, but I try to experience every moment fully, to not take for granted the capacity God has given me to enjoy the life He has blessed me with.

While I am not where I thought I would be at 22, I can truly say that I am thankful for the life I have lived and for all that I have experienced. In the midst of suffering, I have learnt to trust in God’s sovereignty over my life. He has humbled me and shown me that in my weakness, His grace is sufficient. On the days when the pain and fatigue are overwhelming, I can rejoice in the knowledge that I have been brought from death to life through the love of Christ who suffered and died in order to bring me to salvation. Nothing can separate me from God’s love, and that truth sustains me every day. I know that  I stand before Him, forgiven and justified, and any suffering I experience in this life is far outweighed by the glory of eternal life in His presence. I look forward to a day when pain and suffering will be no more; but while it is a reality in this life, I still have reason to rejoice and praise Him, every day.

So, my honest answer to the question, “how are you”?:

I am tired. And I am in pain. But I am here and God is good.

_________________________________

Some helpful links to more information about CFS:

Making connections, changing lives for people with ME/CFS and associated conditions

6 things Chronic Fatigue patients are TIRED of hearing

Center for Disease Control: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Better Health: Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

 

 

My best friend is my phone: rethinking social media

My best friend is my phone. Or atleast, it would appear that way, considering how often it is attached to my hand. On a daily basis, I pay more attention to my phone than I do to the actual people in my life. When I am bored, I pick up my phone. When I am anxious, I pick up my phone. When I am lonely, I pick up my phone. When I am tired, I pick up my phone. Even when I am surrounded by people, or have important things to do, I often finding myself picking up my phone. This is not just descriptive of me; almost everyone I know is permanently attached to an electronic device at all times of the day.

In recent times I’ve realised how greatly my communication skills have depleted. I no longer call friends where I once would have; instead, I send them a message, and hope that they will receive it. Instead of taking the time to meet with a person, face to face, and actually have a conversation, I find myself instead sending long, essay length messages detailing my thoughts, emotions and activities. I do this, despite knowing that I am the type of person who needs proper communication. I am a ‘quality time’ person; if I am not able to give and receive love through spending time with and talking to people, then I suffer emotionally. Too often I have important conversations with people via messenger, where words are misunderstood and intentions are not properly conveyed. I’ve seen relationships break down because healthy communication was not established.

This obsession with technological communication goes far deeper though, than poor communication. I feel the need to update all my friends when I am doing something…anything…out of the ordinary, instead of just enjoying the moment. A friend, who I hadn’t seen for months, once said to me, “I don’t need to ask you what you’ve been doing because I’ve seen all your pictures”. This both shocked and saddened me. When did it come to the point where we don’t need to talk about our lives because our instagram and facebook feeds tell everyone for us? Another friend told me today that when she comes home from a trip, she doesn’t feel like she can tell her housemates about it because “we’ve already had that conversation virtually.” Yet behind every picture of a sunset or roadtrip or mountainscape is a story that cannot be conveyed in megapixels. If sharing our lives through social media is stopping us from actually sharing our lives, why do we use it?

What deeply concerns me though, is the reasons behind why we use social media. Most people would say that they use social media to be connected to each other. Yet, are we really connected to each other? Does liking a person’s photo of their Bali holiday really count as connecting with them? Do any of us really feel connected to the faces that pop up on messenger? While social media may act as a means to deepen healthy, face to face communication, if it is the only type of communication we have, and what we rely on to be “connected” to our friends, is it really healthy?

The questions that I’ve raised in writing this blog post are ones that I know many of my friends are also asking. I deeply fear that my relationships have become ingenuine. I want to have deep, meaningful friendship with people who are willing to talk, to meet up, to see beyond the glossy photos I share on social media and ask me about my life, and vice versa. I want to invest in real relationships, in supporting and encouraging and walking alongside my friends through words and interaction, not characters on a screen. I fear that I use social media to communicate because I am afraid of real interaction. I can depict my life as perfect through Instagram and Facebook, yet in reality I daily struggle with fatigue, depression and sin. I want to be real.

I also want to break away from the constant stream of data that has invaded my life. A friend, who is currently on a ‘social media fast”, told me today that she has never been more productive in her use of time since she began her fast. She has more time to write, to read, to see people, and most importantly, to pray and spend time with God. She described it as a season of “restoring intimacy”. I’ve realised that I need to break the addiction I have to picking up my phone, and restore intimacy with my friends, family, with God, and with myself. I need to re-learn how to be alone, to embrace silence and rest, to use the gifts that God has given me – in writing, music, art – instead of being fixated with a screen.

I’m challenging myself to spend the next 30 days rethinking how I use social media. First step: deleting facebook, messenger and instagram off my phone. I will still use them, but I want to do so in a more healthy, God-glorifying way. I also am challenging myself to foster healthy communication with my friends, starting by calling one friend each day for the next 30 days. Hopefully, by the end of this time, I will be able to say that my relationships with people, and with my phone, have improved. I challenge you, if you are feeling the way I am, to do the same.

Chronic Fatigue and the Sufficiency of God’s Grace

storms (1 of 1)-9 Today marks seven years since the day I awoke to the pain that would develop into chronic fatigue syndrome. At 19,  just over 5 years of CFS, I shared this testimony:

Five years ago, in June, just after I turned 14, I was diagnosed with Glandular Fever. I was bedridden for 6 months, and then recovered (but not fully). But then just over a year later (which had been a year of heartache, pain, and terrible loss, but also so much blessing and grace) I got really sick again, even worse this time, and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue. It has now been five years since the original diagnosis, and I’m still recovering. These years have been the toughest, most painful, frustrating, heartbreaking years of my life. And yet, they have also been the most wonderful. I have lost so much, but I have gained so much more than I ever thought was possible. 

Through the midst of suffering, I have come to understand, in a way that I know would not be possible if it weren’t for what I’ve been through, what faith really is. It’s easy to trust in God when everything is going wonderfully in life; but when your whole life falls apart and everything you found worth in is stripped away, that is when your faith is really tested. And in this moment, in the midst of the blazing furnace, is where faith is refined, and God’s grace shines brightest.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

I have days when I am still very weak (physically), where the fatigue is so strong that it hurts just to open my eyes. There are days when the pain in my body is so intense that I cannot bear to move. Today is one of those days. But these days are also the days where God is most present – when His strength fills me, lifts me; His grace overcomes my weakness. He says to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And though I am weak, I am made strong.

Two years later, these words remain true. I am no longer enslaved by the fatigue that plagued my body for most of my adolescent life, but I do still feel tiredness beyond the norm. The days where I am unable to function at a basic human level are very rare, but pain is still an ever present reality in my body. God has healed me in incredible ways – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and I am able to do things I never thought would be possible. I look back on my years of sickness and praise God for the ways He worked in me and through me for His glory. His grace truly is sufficient.

Fearless

fearless“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” – Meg Cabot

Today my best friend gave me a necklace for my 21st birthday; a golden chain with an old, worn key as the pendant. Engraved into the key is the word FEARLESS. She expressed to me that ‘fearless’ is a word that describes me – the way that I approach life, the way that I endure through suffering, the way that I love those around me and the way that I seek God. This present could not have been given to me at a more important time; of all the words I need spoken into my life right now, ‘fearless’ is the one I need most.

I do not feel fearless. Lately I have been feeling confused and overwhelmed by what has been, what is and what will be. I have felt lost and spiritually low. I have felt emotionally (and physically) exhausted. Not that I reveal any of these things to the world; only those closest to me see my brokenness. Too often I allow anxiety to consume my being, cutting me off from the people and my God who I love most. Fearless is the last word I would use to describe myself.

Reflecting on fearlessness with another dear friend this afternoon, I have realised that being fearless is not being unafraid. Being fearless is persevering in spite of and through ever-present fear. Being fearless is trusting that God is at work for His glory in every circumstance in a world that proclaims the exact opposite. Being fearless is waking up each day and surrendering each moment to God, asking Him to act through us and in us according to His will.

In the midst of change, broken relationships, sickness, spiritual warfare, financial uncertainty and the innumerable issues we face in life, it is easy to lose sight of the God in whom we trust. Being fearless is not a matter of conquering fear, but surrendering our fears to our God who is greater than our fears. Being fearless is trusting in His sovereignty and goodness, in His enduring love, no matter how deeply anxiety is gnawing at our souls. Being fearless is having confidence that God’s purposes are greater than our own, finding strength in this knowledge, and persevering through disappointment and despondency.

This morning, in a deeply fatigued, emotionally low state, I typed “fear” into my phone’s bible search tool, seeking a verse that would point me to the God of all comfort. I found this:

‘Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?’ – Job 4:6

Though I don’t like to read verses out of context, this was a great encouragement. I am not fearless because I am not afraid of anything – I am afraid of many things. Fear is an important emotion to experience; our bodies and minds respond to dangerous and uncertain situations with fear. I am fearless because I place my confidence in Christ, who sacrificed His life to deliver me from bondage to sin. I find courage and strength in what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do. My ability to endure through the trials of life comes from Him alone; it is His strength at work in me. I am able to love fearlessly because He first loved me – and paid the price for my sin in love.

I experience anxiety daily, and am often consumed by it. Yet God is greater than my anxiety, and in Him I do not have to be a slave to fear. In Christ I have been set free, and though fear still overwhelms, He gives me the strength to hold on to the truth of His love and grace. In Him, fear has no power over my life. In Him, I am able to endure through fear and uncertainty. In Him, I am fearless.


 

Photo captured with a Canon Eos 600D.

Key necklace designed by The Giving Keys.

Evolution and Creation

In the midst of essay writing on the impact of Charles Darwin’s writings on the Church, I escaped to one of my favourite places in the world. It is impossible to stand looking out over this valley and think that there couldn’t be a Creator. Evolution is an observable phenomenon in the natural world; it is a controversial subject and is one that many people use to reject God. Yet, the more I read about evolutionary theory, the more I am inspired to respond with awe at the immensity and intricacy of creation and the processes by which it is ruled.

Darwin himself never claimed there is no God, though ultimately he rejected the faith of his youth. Many historians argue that to his death Darwin held a theistic view of Creation (that God ultimately created the world). Regardless of whether you believe that humanity (and all of creation) is descendant from a single organism, or believe creation is a result of a random coincidence and man’s life is meaningless, or whether you believe that God created the world, with order and purpose, and proclaimed His creation to be good (see Gen 1), the beauty of creation is impossible to ignore.

I will never cease to be in awe of my God, who I know breathed life into being, who spoke and the universe was created. I can only respond with praise when I behold sights like this: storms (1 of 1)-29

“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end.” (Ps. 24:25-27)

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“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers…” (Ps. 24:1-2)

storms (1 of 1)-40

“Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who alone does great wonders… to Him who by understanding made the heavens… to Him who spread out the earth above the waters…” (Ps. 136).


All photos captured with a Canon Eos 600D.

Location: Burragorang Valley, NSW.

Easter: Christ or Chocolate?

What does Easter mean to you? In a world where Easter represents a long weekend and the eating of exorbitant amounts of chocolate, it can be hard to focus on the truth: that an innocent man lovingly and willingly took the sin of the world upon His own shoulders and died upon a Roman cross for the salvation of all. I am ashamed to admit that I have let many Easters pass me by without truly giving any deep thought to Jesus at all.

It is hard to comprehend what He went through that Friday. I feel like I will never be able to truly grasp the depth of pain and suffering Jesus willingly endured to bring me to salvation. The pain He felt was real – emotional, physical, mental and spiritual. He endured the full emotional pain of having foreknowledge of what He was to face, betrayal by His closest friends, the hatred of crowds who had once praised Him. As the soldiers whipped Him, tortured Him, crowned Him with thorns, drove nails into His hands and feet and hung Him on the cross, He willingly took the pain. He suffered the mental anguish of being called a liar, a fraud, a blasphemer, a sinner; yet patiently and silently endured it all. Most incredibly, Jesus willingly experienced the horror of separation from the Father as He hung on the cross and yielded His Spirit, taking the sins of the world upon Himself.

Yet it is not only understanding the pain Jesus went through to save undeserving sinners like you and me that is important. What we need to understand also is why? Why would Jesus choose to die for us, when we have wilfully rejected Him? Why would God want to reconcile us to Himself when we, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) The answer to that question is life-altering. God chose to show us grace when we deserved wrath, to freely give us life where we deserved death, to die in our place and pay the penalty of our sins, because He loves us! He lovingly made us in His image, lovingly allowed us the freedom to choose to follow Him or to reject Him, lovingly provided a means of reconciliation – Christ himself – so that He could live in relationship with us. He took away our guilt, our shame and chose to forgive us of our sins – no longer counting them against us; He has declared us innocent and free!

Why does our world celebrate a fictional, chocolate-delivering bunny instead of Jesus? For the same reason that we, friends, once saw chocolate as more important than Christ, and maybe in some ways still do. To acknowledge Christ means to acknowledge one’s own sin; to comprehend His love means to understand our own depravity. The world does not want to know Christ because it does not want to change! Even now, despite knowing Christ and knowing His love, I sometimes choose the pleasure of sin over Him. I choose the chocolate over the blood of Christ. Ironically, chocolate is not good for my body*, despite how great it tastes, just as sin is not good for my soul. Yet ultimately, sin only leads to destruction. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Take a moment to let that sink in, friends. We deserve DEATH, but God has chosen to freely give us LIFE – in and through Christ. This is the true meaning of Easter. This is what we should be celebrating: freedom from sin and guilt, and the joy and hope of eternal life that has been granted us through the death of an innocent man on a cross 2000 years ago.

So what does this Easter mean to me? I don’t want this Easter to pass me by in ignorance, apathy or indifference. I want the truth of His love for me to change my heart. to transform my life. Friends, I encourage you to do the same. Acknowledge your unconfessed sin, and accept His forgiveness. Recognise that God desires to be in an intimate relationship with you, to make you more like Him. Rejoice in the freedom and hope we now have in Him! Celebrate Christ, not chocolate.