When you find ways to be grateful in the midst of chronic illness, you can strengthen your faith and improve your mental health.

Giving Thanks When Chronic Illness Moves In

words by

AnnE Marie Winz

illustrations by

Karen Mills

“Your joints are getting stronger, but there’s no improvement in your muscles.”  

My physical therapist had just finished his assessment of my progress after 15 sessions. Two months earlier, in January 2022, I’d seen a hand surgeon who diagnosed me with frozen shoulder and recommended physical therapy. This seemed odd to me, but I believed my faith would see me through this. 

In the meantime, my family practice doctor retired just as my legs also began to ache unexpectedly. I scheduled appointments with both a new family practice doctor and a rheumatologist — but both appointments were at least three months out. Physical therapy became my next best option while I waited. My muscles continued losing function week by week. Watching my decline scared me. Could I trust God that I’d eventually regain muscle function?

During the first weeks, I drove myself to my appointments. While I could still drive safely, getting out of the car without falling became increasingly difficult. About halfway through, I asked my husband, Mark, to take me so he could help. Before one of my final appointments, I stood in the waiting room instead of sitting down. When the therapist asked about it, I told her I was scared; I didn’t want to risk not being able to stand up again.

Even though my friends and family were praying for me, the losses kept stacking up.

And on the day of that physical therapy assessment, I learned that eight weeks of exercise hadn’t improved my muscles. While the therapist’s observations were honest and accurate, his words were hard to hear.

I sat on the edge of the treatment table, my feet touching the floor, my hands pushing against the hard surface and my mind wondering what might be next. I didn’t yet have a diagnosis, and I choked back the tears.

Placing my hope in the Lord, I had prayed that he would use physical therapy to rebuild muscles and help me regain my strength. Instead, no progress. With a broken heart and a cracking voice, I said to the therapist, “It feels too much like we’re staving off the inevitable.” I couldn’t find other words for the possibility that I might never regain my muscle function I had already lost.


What can I do when my body betrays me? I tell myself to stand, and instead of rising to my feet, my body answers, “Not today.” Using my hands, arms and shoulders to brace myself, I try again, and this time I stand. I’m on my feet, but my hips and thighs scream because the pain is so great. My shoulders ache from the effort.

Giving thanks in chronic illness

Scripture instructs me to give thanks in all things. But even if I had unshakable faith, how can I give thanks amid my limitations? Did God want me to thank him that I could do less this week than last week? That seemed too difficult. I felt angry instead of thankful.

So I prayed. “Lord, I’m having a hard time finding ways to be thankful in this. Can you change my heart and help me be willing to thank you?” He honored that prayer by reminding me about the things I can still do: I can get out of bed and stand on my feet every morning. I have an employer who allows me to work from home. I have family members who are concerned about me and take good care of me.

Illustration of friends comforting

When I began thanking God for those things, I sensed a shift in my attitude. I’m learning that giving thanks in all things, even the small things, is an act of faith that strengthens my relationship with God.

“Thank you, Lord, that I can still lift my arms over my head so I can put a shirt on. Thank you that I can now stretch far enough to put on my own shoes and socks. Thank you that I can still walk a mile. Thank you for my two friends who walk with me three times a week.”

Every November, my family celebrates Thanksgiving, this holiday when families get together, watch football, eat turkey and count their blessings.


Every year, my mother insists that everyone at the table name something they are thankful for. Predictably, these items center around family, friends and faith.

And when the grandchildren are present, they very carefully remember to mention their grandmother, who sends them a generous, one-size-fits-all cash gift on their birthdays.

While we can dedicate a day in November to naming things we are genuinely grateful for, practicing gratitude every day is an act of faith we can engage in year-round. It strengthens our relationship with God, and it’s good for our mental health.

When suffering pays a visit

Writing from experience, the apostle Paul stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV), “...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul was beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel. The Thessalonian Christians watched as he left their city at night just three short weeks later. If he suffered persecution, he knew they would as well. With his words, he pointed them to Christ so they could learn to trust him in their trials. 

Others from Scripture, like Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, suffered when his brothers betrayed him. In Genesis 37, Moses writes that Joseph’s brothers hated him for being his father’s favorite son. In a fit of jealousy, they sold him to a group of slave traders who took him to Egypt. In spite of that emotional wounding at the hands of the ones he loved, he chose faith in the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew the stories about the God they had put their hope in, and he believed those stories were true. 

He refused bitterness.

Joseph became the property of a royal official until the man’s wife unjustly accused him of attacking her. Her false accusation sent him to prison. Seeing Joseph’s potential, the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of managing the prisoners.

One morning, Joseph interpreted two of the prisoners’ dreams, telling one prisoner he would live and serve Pharaoh and telling the other prisoner he would die. The next day both prisoners were called to an audience with Pharaoh. It happened as Joseph said. One man received his position again while the other one was killed for his crime.

Even though the servant who lived promised to tell Pharaoh about Joseph, he forgot, and Joseph remained in prison for two more years. Every day, Joseph hoped he would be remembered and set free. And every day, nothing happened. Still, Joseph continued to trust God. And then, on a day just like any other, Pharaoh’s servants arrived, asking if Joseph could interpret Pharaoh’s own frightening dreams.

Joseph correctly predicted seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. He recommended a plan to store surplus grain during the good years so there would be enough grain left over to survive the famine. Pharaoh was so impressed that he put Joseph in charge of the project.

Eventually, God used Joseph to save Egypt as well as the lives of  Joseph’s father and his brothers, who later formed the 12 tribes of Israel. While it took years for the plan to unfold, Joseph held onto his faith in God. He understood that even though his brothers meant to harm him, God used Joseph’s hardship to accomplish a greater purpose.

When a body refuses to get well

In another story from Scripture, a woman in the New Testament who had been bleeding for 12 years was bankrupt because she had spent all of her money on doctors. If you are chronically ill or have received a diagnosis like cancer or heart disease, you can understand the woman’s anguish and hardship. My medical team has included a general practitioner, a rheumatologist, a hand surgeon, a physical therapist, a neurologist and an endocrinologist. That’s a lot of co-pays.     

This bankrupt woman believed Jesus could heal her. Gently pushing her way through a crowd, she approached Jesus from behind, bent over and touched the hem of his garment. Immediately, she knew her body had been healed. 

Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” The disciples rightly pointed out that he was surrounded by people pressing in against him. Many people touched him. He stopped and said he felt power going out of him. That’s when the woman stepped forward and said she had touched him. Honoring her faith, Jesus promised that her sins had been forgiven and she was healed.


Most people have something in their lives that causes them heartache. For me, it’s living with sore muscles.

Sometimes I can’t stand up when I want to. I can’t yet lift my hands over my head to reach the shelves in my kitchen cabinets. So I’m both exercising and resting, and I’m working with my doctors to find a treatment that will send the disease into remission.

According to the National Health Council, one in every three adults internationally suffers from one or more chronic illnesses, a condition lasting at least a year that involves continuing medical treatment. The top chronic illnesses are high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Others include autoimmune and genetic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or multiple sclerosis.  

It’s possible that you or someone you know has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Here are four ways you can pray:

  1. Relief. Pray for relief from all symptoms, including fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. 

  2. Remission. When doctors diagnose a chronic illness, they design a treatment plan to reduce symptoms and send the illness into remission. Pray that the immune system will do its work to achieve this goal of remission.

  3. Recovery. As the disease goes into remission, pray that the person with chronic illness can regain all lost functions. 

  4. Resilience. Pray for endurance for the person to trust God every day, regardless of the outcome of their experience.

One month after hearing from my physical therapist, I saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with myositis (muscle weakness) and began a treatment plan that we hope will send this disease into remission. I still have a long way to go, but my muscles are now slowly gaining strength.

I’m not thankful for weakening muscles, but I can be grateful for good medical care. 

When I go to the gym I use machines and free weights, praying that I can build back muscle mass. I see my friend who says hello and tells me how much better I look. She reminds me that she prays for me every day, and I thank her. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with a different chronic illness. I prayed for her then as she saw her doctors, took her medicine and exercised faithfully. She has made a full recovery.

Early in my Christian life, I memorized James 1. Verses 2 to 4 read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (ESV). 

I’m not perfect, and I’m not complete, but I thank God for using chronic illness to strengthen my faith and build my endurance. Each of us faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles that threaten to derail our faith. But when we thank God in our hardships, he uses those trials to strengthen our faith.

Next Steps

Name a heartache causing suffering in your life. Can you find a way to thank God amid your trials? The link below can provide some encouragement in this area.


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