A Journey Worth the Struggle

By Sonya Grace Naugle*
It was on a Sunday morning at church that I knew something was severely wrong. 

As a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four children aged ten to sixteen, I had many responsibilities at church and at home—sitting on committees, attending meetings, mentoring women, managing my household, speaking to groups, coaching volleyball. I was also traveling 130 miles back and forth to care for my parents, with my mom living in a group home and my dad battling stage 4 colon cancer. All this was taking a toll on my marriage and family. Still, I carried on. I had always been one to take care of others’ needs. 

I began experiencing heart palpitations accompanied by dizziness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, joint and abdominal pain, muscle weakness, lower than normal blood pressure, and the inability to get over a head cold. Unfortunately, I kept going—homeschooling, coaching, serving at church, taking occasional speaking engagements, and traveling three hours each way to care for my parents. 

The Sunday before Thanksgiving 2013 I went to church as usual. Strangely, I had no strength to stand up for the singing or even to sing while sitting down. During the message my heart felt as if it was doing flips in my chest. My oldest daughter, sitting next to me, saw my face turn pale and my breathing grow faster and heavier. Suddenly my limbs went limp, and everything went blank.

My juggling act had come to a screeching halt. An ambulance rushed me to the emergency room. My blood was drawn, and I had an EKG, but the tests revealed nothing serious. After receiving an IV for dehydration, I was sent home with directions to follow up with my primary care physician and cardiologist. I didn’t know it, but it would be months before I could easily get out of bed. 

In the days following my collapse, I visited my primary care doctor and cardiologist. Neither of them could provide me with answers. Something was obviously wrong in my body, but I had no diagnosis or treatment plan to follow. 

Days dragged into weeks. Finally, about a month after my body’s breakdown, I saw a thread of God’s grace. I visited a healthcare practitioner who read between the lines of my lab work to see some definite health concerns. After a few more weeks of waiting for further test results, my practitioner confirmed that I was dealing with the onset of severe adrenal fatigue, or “adrenal burnout,” as she called it. This was most likely the result of many years of high-stress situations that had started in my early childhood. 

I now had a diagnosis. But I had no solution. Heart palpitations led to continual dizziness. I was incredibly weak and always tired. My limbs felt like dead weight—I had to physically pick up my legs, one at a time, and put them over the edge of the bed to try to get up. My healthcare practitioner told me that my condition was serious and that it would take a long time to recover—not months but years. The odds of me fully recovering were slim. I felt frustrated and hopeless. At first I felt as if I was being punished. I had always tried to eat well, exercise, and keep healthy and strong. But that hadn’t stopped my body from crashing. 

In our performance-based world, lying in bed isn’t considered resourceful. But I couldn’t get up, let alone brush my hair and teeth, make meals for my family, or wash clothes. All that took energy I didn’t have. My body had basically said, “I’m done.” Two months into my recovery, I held onto my various responsibilities from a distance, expecting to be back on my feet soon and able to return to my ministry roles. But after weeks of struggling, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. Finally I realized that I needed to surrender everything. My oldest daughter took on household responsibilities and cared for her siblings, while others filled the voids I had left on church and para-church committees. If God wanted to resurrect any of it, He could, but I had to give it all up first. 

As I lay in bed with nothing to do, my mind worked overtime. Hurts from the past that I thought had been resolved and emotions that I had buried now came uncovered. With full force they bowled me over with shame, sadness, anger, fear, and resentment. I also worried about the present—how my sixteen-year-old daughter would maintain household responsibilities, how my children would be homeschooled, how shopping and meal prep would be accomplished, how my parents’ pressing medical needs would be cared for, how my inability to function might create misunderstanding in those closest to me and make it appear as if I were lazy or unmotivated. Fears about the future haunted me as well: how would we pay for the supplements, treatments, and tests I now required? What would happen to my parents as they faced their own health struggles? And worst of all, would I ever be able to care for my family again? 

In this place of despair, God ministered to my heart in a way I had never experienced before. While the exhaustion told me I was finished, God told me, “You’re staying in this bed until you learn what I want to teach you, because I need your full attention.” I was sidelined, but God was just getting started. I didn’t know it, but God was going to use this season to revive my soul and body from many chaotic years and toxic experiences. 

As I lay in bed, I began to fill the pages of my journal. Writing was difficult, since having lights on or sitting up in bed increased my dizziness. But I prayed, “God, if You want me to write, You’ll give me the strength to hold this pen and sit up.” And He did just that. As I learned to listen for His voice, God taught me some unexpected lessons. Relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance, I wrote down what I heard God saying to my heart as I prayed through my affliction and meditated on His Word. As I looked at my struggles in light of who God is and the relationship I have with Him as one of His children, I experienced His presence in surprising new ways. Though my circumstances didn’t change for many months, I began to change, and I found great treasures in the darkness. 

Grappling with worry, shame, rejection, and fear taught me some powerful truths. First, I learned above all else that God’s presence was with me. I was not alone! I would get through this. Knowing that God loved me as His own precious child brought me peace. I also discovered that God’s promises are true and trustworthy, even when I didn’t feel them. I had to lean into His promises and take them as my own—and I did. Amazingly, as I grew in trust, I saw God’s provision—our expenses were somehow paid, my children’s homeschooling carried on, my family had meals on the table and all their daily needs met, and my parents survived their struggles as they learned to trust God and lean on each other. 

My trial wasn’t over in a moment—it lasted many months, and its residual effects still continue today. But those months in bed weren’t wasted time; in them God was at work, healing my body, soul, and spirit and drawing me closer to Him. My trial was not a punishment but rather a present from the Lord: it slowed me down and gave me the solitude I needed to draw closer to Him. As I focused on the Lord, He spoke new life to my soul. Not only that, but He also gave me a new purpose, including the call to write books and to blog that He had planted in my heart many years previously. It was extremely difficult for me to be patient with the process and give myself permission to be still, but it was well worth it. 

God had a plan in my pain, and He has a plan in yours as well. Press into Him and His promises. He can turn your pain into praise. 

Sonya Grace Naugle is just an ordinary girl with a God-given purpose to encourage individuals through their hardships with a message of faith, hope, and love. Having endured her own heartache from a broken, wounded childhood and a chronic health condition, Sonya has learned firsthand to trust God and hear His voice through life’s hard places. 

As a speaker and writer, Sonya comes alongside individuals struggling through all walks and seasons of life and provides them encouragement from the comfort she has received from God through her own life’s struggles (see 2 Cor. 1:3–4). Sonya is a dedicated wife, mother of four, and grandmother of two. She is also a registered nurse, having earned her degree from Alvernia University. Sonya has a bachelor of science in Bible from Lancaster Bible College. Combining her education with a heart of compassion and a hand of tender mercy, Sonya serves alongside her husband, Nathanael, in full-time pastoral ministry to provide help and hope for individuals and families within their congregation and community nestled in the rolling hills of southeastern Pennsylvania. 

Sonya blogs at www.sonyagracenaugle.com

*This post is excerpted with permission from Whispers of God’s Love: Forty Days of Hope-Filled Messages to Lift the Troubled Soul by Sonya Grace Naugle, 2019.

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