Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.
For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.
In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.
That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.
Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.
But none of these things seemed to work.
“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.
That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?
When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.
1. I tend to rely on myself.
As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.
2. I tend to focus on myself.
In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.
But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.
I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.
That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?
3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.
Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.
Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.
As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:
- Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
- Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
- Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.