Young People Ask . . .
Why Do I Have to Be So Sick?
WHEN Jason was 13 years old, he set his heart on one day serving as a full-time minister at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. He made a wooden box for himself and called it his Bethel box. He began to accumulate things in it that he thought would be useful when he began his Bethel career.
However, just three months after his 18th birthday, Jason was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease—a relentless, painful bowel disorder. “It just crushed me,” he recalls. “All I could do was call my Dad at work and cry. I knew that, if nothing else, it meant my dream of going to Bethel had met a roadblock.”
Illness is a basic reason why “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.”(Romans 8:22) Untold millions of young people are included among the sick. Many young people eventually get better. But others must deal with diseases that are chronic or, in some cases, life threatening. Included among afflictions that youths often suffer are asthma, diabetes, sickle-cell disease, infectious illnesses, epilepsy, mental illness, and cancer. Some youths live with multiple ailments.
‘Why Is This Happening to Me?’
Illness often creates mental and emotional stress, not to speak of physical distress. For instance, if sickness keeps you out of school for months, you may not only get behind academically but feel cut off socially as well. When 12-year-old Sunny has to miss school because of his periodic stays in the hospital, he worries, ‘What are my classmates doing? What am I missing today?’
Similarly, spiritual growth can seem to suffer when you are too sick to attend Christian meetings or even to read the Bible. At this point you need extra emotional and spiritual support. At first, you may refuse to believe the diagnosis. Later, you may feel very angry, perhaps at yourself, thinking that you could have somehow avoided the illness. You may feel like crying out, ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’ (Compare Matthew 27:46.) Actually, it is normal to experience at least some depression.
In addition, a youngster may even imagine that if he makes some special effort, such as trying to be extra good, God will take away his illness. However, such thinking can lead to disappointment, since God does not promise miraculous healing at this time.—1 Corinthians 12:30; 13:8, 13.
Perhaps you had hoped that you would never have to die—that you would be alive when God brings “the great tribulation.” (Revelation 7:14, 15; John 11:26) If so, learning that you have a life-threatening illness can be doubly shocking. You may wonder if you have done something to offend Jehovah, or you may think that God has singled you out for some special test of integrity. However, these are not proper conclusions. “With evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone,” says God’s Word, the Bible. (James 1:13) Sickness and death are unhappy parts of the present human condition, and we are all subject to “time and unforeseen occurrence.”—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
Dealing With the Fear
Getting a serious illness may also cause you to feel deep fear for the first time. The book How It Feels to Fight for Your Life records the observations of 14 young people with serious illnesses. For example, Anton, ten, feared that he was going to die during a bad asthma attack. And Elizabeth, 16, who was fighting bone cancer, feared going to sleep and not waking up.
Some youths, though, have fears of a different sort—fear that no one will ever want to marry them or fear that they will not have healthy children later on in life. Other youngsters fear that they may give their illness to family members, whether their illness is contagious or not.
Even if a disease has stabilized or is in remission, with any turn for the worse, fears can resurface. If you have felt such fears, you know that they are very real. Fortunately, the initial surge of negative emotions tends to subside in time. Then you can begin to evaluate your circumstances more rationally.
The Challenge of Being Sick
“When you are young, you feel invincible,” observes Jason, mentioned before. “Then, suddenly, being seriously ill shakes you out of that. You feel that you have become old overnight, since you have to sit back and slow down.” Yes, facing new limitations is challenging.
Jason found that another big challenge comes when others fail to understand your condition. Jason has what may be termed an “invisible illness.” His outward appearance belies the problems inside. “My body doesn’t digest food as it should,” Jason explains, “so I have to eat often and I eat greater quantities than many do. Yet, I still stay thin. Also, at times I get so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open in the middle of the day. But people make comments that show they think I’m overindulgent or lazy. They say things like: ‘You know you can do better. You’re not even trying!’”
Jason has younger brothers and sisters who don’t always understand why he can’t do the things he did before, such as taking them out to play ball. “But I know that if I get injured,” Jason observes, “it could take weeks for me to heal. They tend to compare my pain to theirs and say, ‘He’s just groaning to get attention.’ Their worst pain is probably something like a sprained foot, so they simply can’t imagine what my pain is like.”
If your illness seems to be putting a burden on your family, you may struggle with guilt. Your parents may also feel guilty. “Both my parents believe they may have given me the problem,” says Jason. “Kids usually adjust to an illness after they come to grips with it. But parents have a harder time. They apologize to me over and over. I constantly have to do my best to try to relieve their feelings of guilt.”
Medical Visits—Not Fun
Ongoing visits to the doctor can be a source of anxiety. They can make you feel small and helpless. Just sitting in a hospital examination room waiting your turn can be terrifying. “You feel . . . so alone and it would be nice if someone kept you company,” says Joseph, 14, a heart patient. Sad to say, some youngsters do not get that kind of support, even from their parents.
Medical tests can likewise provoke anxiety. Frankly, some tests can be downright unpleasant. Then, afterward, you may have to endure anxious days or weeks while you wait for the results. But bear this in mind: Taking a medical test is not like taking a test in school; having a medical problem doesn’t mean you’ve failed somehow.
Actually, a test can provide very helpful information. It can show that you have a medical problem that is easily treatable. Or, if it isn’t, a test can help show what you can do to live with the disorder. It may even show that you don’t have a certain suspected illness after all. So try not to jump to conclusions about your condition.
Worrying too much will only wear you out. The Bible says: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down.” (Proverbs 12:25) Instead, God invites us to tell him about our concerns. We need to trust that he cares for us and that he will give us his guidance and the wisdom to deal with the problem in the best way possible.—Psalm 41:3; Proverbs 3:5, 6; Philippians 4:6, 7; James 1:5.
We can be happy that our Creator, Jehovah God, has made provision to usher in a new world of righteousness. He will even resurrect those who have died, providing them an opportunity to enjoy that new world. The Bible assures us that at that time “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isaiah 33:24.
Until then, you may have to cope with serious illness. However, there are many practical things you can do to make the best of your situation. We will discuss these in a future article.
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You may ask, ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’