Do you ever get concerned, as you live day to day with your pain or disability, about what people may think of you when you can’t do the things they can do? Maybe you have family members who have unrealistic expectations of the things you can all do together. Maybe you have a coworker who is resentful because he or she sometimes has to take up the slack for you, or put in more hours than you. Perhaps no one has said anything to you, but in your own mind you worry about what they think of you. Do they think I’m being wimpy? Are they whispering about how needy I am, or that I should toughen up?
If you’ve dealt with a chronic physical problem for any length of time, and you’re honest, you will admit that these things have crossed your mind. So, what are we to do when these worries plague us, or we feel bad because of them? Well, I think the first thing we need to do is really examine ourselves. Ask yourself: Could I indeed do more than I am doing? Am I using my condition as an excuse to be lazy? Am I seeking attention or special treatment? Do I just want to get out of my responsibilities, or is my need legitimate? Be honest. The Lord knows your weakness, and He is ready to forgive. If you have needlessly and selfishly burdened someone, you must confess, repent, and change.
But if, after careful self-examination (and maybe even a chat with an accountability partner), you find that you have not sinned in this area, then you must deal with your fear of man. What the world calls peer pressure, low self-confidence, and people-pleasing, the Bible calls fear of man. God’s Word has much to say about this subject. Proverbs 29:25 in the New Living Translation says, “Fear of people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.” The way this is worded tells me that these things—fearing people and trusting the LORD—are opposites. If I am concerned about what people think of me, I will become consumed with trying to please them, and I will lose sight of the purpose for which I was created. Isaiah 43:7 tells me that I was created to glorify God. How can I do that if I’m seeking to please people?
So, how do we get past these fears as we try to make decisions about whether to commit to things we’re not certain we can do, or whether to bow out of a commitment on a really bad day? The first step is to pray. Ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance as you work through your decision. Ask Him to restrain you from fear of man in the situation, and to help you think clearly, just about the situation, not the response of the people involved. Ask Him to show you how you can best glorify Him in it.
If, after prayerful consideration, you decide that you are not able to do what’s being asked of you, then you must be honest. Going and doing it anyway may cause a setback that could require a longer period of rest down the road. Do you know your limits? Then you must respect them, regardless of what others may think. Remember to ask yourself who put the limits in place. It is God who has ordained your pain or disability, for your good and His glory. Why should you continue to press on beyond the limits He has set? What can man do to you? Psalm 118:6 says, “The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” Your top priority and main concern must be what God thinks of you. After all, He set the limits of the oceans! Job 38:8-11 says,
“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores.
I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
Here your proud waves must stop!’”
Our God is the setter of all limits, from the greatest ocean to the most disabled individuals. The last line of this passage brings me to my final point. Is it your pride that makes you want to push your limits beyond what you know you can handle? This is tied in with fear of man too, but pride has its own ugly head that it likes to raise in these situations. Our pride can make us want to do as much as others who are more physically able than we are. It makes us embarrassed to have to say, “No, I can’t do that.” We are ashamed of our weakness, and we don’t want to admit it. But we must remember once again, when these feelings come on, that it is God who set the limits, not these individuals. What God has deemed perfect for us has nothing to do with anyone else. Each of us is accountable to God for our choices. Romans 14:4 says to those who may judge us:
“Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive His approval.”
If we are doing our best, and are sincerely able to work and do only within the limits that God has set for us, we can be free of condemnation, embarrassment, or shame. We may have to wrestle with our submission to the limits God has placed on us, but when we get to that point of joyful obedience and willingness to embrace our condition, God will bring us through it in triumph.
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.—2 Corinthians 2:14