Armwrestling with God
I think I laughed out loud when the nurse on the phone told me I had to go to the emergency room. At 17 years old I felt fine, but my symptoms suggested otherwise. My unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, and mysterious twenty-pound weight loss did not seem too concerning when I was focused on graduating high school the next month. Still, I went to the ER, thinking of it all as an adventure.
The "adventure" lost its luster and turned to shock when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes later that afternoon. The surprise of my new life-sentence was dulled by overwhelm and cluelessness — I knew nothing about diabetes and all of the medical phrases confused me. My body was broken and I needed to learn how to take care of myself.
The doctors explained to me that I would essentially need to learn how to take over the role of my pancreas — a juggling act in which I would balance food and medicine. Suddenly my health depended on my ability to count carbohydrates and protein and calculate the right amount of insulin to give myself. That afternoon I had to get over my discomfort with needles when I gave myself my first injection of medicine — the beginning of my new normal.
Control — that was the name of my new game. I needed to take control for the sake of my health. But taking over the role of an organ challenged my own perceptions of control and deeply impacted my relationship with God. During a time that I needed to grab onto my faith more than ever, I grabbed God’s hand only to begin an “armwrestling match.”
In my heart I wrestled with God especially in those early months and years following my diagnosis. I had trusted God before I was diagnosed. As a child I experienced Him as a constant and a comfort through each move around the United States as part of my father’s military career. Each location introduced unique challenges but also introduced new adventures, lessons, and memories. So as I faced my diagnosis, that was my mindset: this is just a new phase. Surely this illness has purpose.
But the “shiny newness” of my mindset slowly faded away as doubts and frustrations kept coming. It faded to anger as I struggled with my body’s new balancing act. High blood sugars at dinner would sometimes swing dangerously low at two o’clock in the morning, leaving me crying in my bedroom while I drank a juice box in record speed. It faded to grief as I grieved the life I lost and the future I had previously imagined. So I tightened my grip and flexed my control in this armwrestling match with a God who I now believed had been careless with me. After all, I couldn’t see the purpose in this pain.
In the months following my diagnosis, I started attending university with a faint, hesitant trust in God, and an ever-tightening grip of control. Chronic illness intensified the pressure of life, and it felt isolating to explain my illness to new friends who had no idea what my harsh, daily realities looked like. So amidst the pressures and unknowns, I tried to control my blood glucose levels perfectly, which is nearly impossible. I tried to control everything outside of the illness. I kept careful control of my calendar, and filled it to the brim with classes and events. If I couldn’t keep my blood glucose levels balanced, I could at least control what I did, where I went, and who I spoke to. I took ownership of my illness begrudgingly, and in the process, I pushed God aside in this area of my life, and struggled to figure out where I stood in my faith.
Yet over the course of time, my strength was waning and the false grip of control I thought I had was slipping. Looking back on old journal entries, the pages are filled with loneliness and frustration as I struggled with learning how to take care of my illness and how to be a college student. One entry reads, “I’m exhausted. I’m tired of being strong all the time but I know that no one else can take care of me.” Those words came from wrestling with control and the frustration of isolation. I was angry with God, armwrestling with Him about the purpose of my illness, and my faith had remained barely an afterthought on the back-burner. As I came to terms with that frustration, I slowly began to look back to my faith for rest and strength.
While I had been armwrestling with God and struggling on my own, God had been trying to take my hand and assure me that this pain had purpose. My diagnosis, along with everything else in my life, was a part of His grand and specific plan for me. This assurance came through family and friends who were willing to help and learn, even if they could not fully understand. Assurance came through worship and learning about God’s character and who He truly is. Support and encouragement came through my small group Bible study and in online communities, including People Hope. My faith slowly rekindled as I came to terms with my anger and grief and then surrendered them to God. I thought I was the only one who could take care of myself, but I learned that others could help. More importantly, I learned that God cared for me. Through this time of wrestling, I learned I could trust Him in all things and that I did not have to rely on myself for worth or control.
That assurance changed everything and continues to impact me as I write this now after four years of living with my diagnosis. I can look back at those initial hardships and appreciate how they have prepared me for future challenges. My family, friends, and faith sustain me in the difficult moments that I still experience. Faith in a loving God, especially in this life with chronic illness, has the power to transform struggles into celebration. I couldn’t see it for a time, but there truly is incredible purpose for this pain.
This much I know for sure — there is no sense in armwrestling with a God who is simply trying to gently lead you by the hand into the most purposeful, unique plan for your life.
Releasing control and simply holding His hand rather than gripping it for a struggle is not always easy, but it truly is a hopeful act. Hope in God gives us the freedom to let go of these false grips of control we have in the unhealthy areas of our lives so that God can have control over our unique, grand stories. For me, it was a relief to turn back to God and fully know and feel that He had always been in control of my story. I didn’t need to cling to my own sense of control - I could trust in God’s control and continue to have hope in every high and low.
Hope is stronger than shame, more ferocious than anger, more consistent than confusion, and more abiding than heartache. Hope is sweeter than control. Where in the world did I get the idea that I could win an armwrestling match against God anyway?
Written by: Stephanie Hudak
If you love cozying up in your favorite blanket with a good book, Stephanie might just be your long-lost best friend. Not only is she a vibrant member of our Tribe, she also works with the USO helping to serve thousands of military members and their families, and she’s passionate about all people having access to insulin! We’re proud to share her beautiful insights, but we’re also proud to learn that her coffee order is a cappuccino in her favorite travel mug, that she played trumpet for 11 years, that Cuban sandwiches are her jam, and that she dreams about writing a book someday. Yeah, Stephanie’s our kind of girl.
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