As we know, chronic illness goes on and on and on. There is no end, no use by date. This is a problem. Because we are only human. We find it difficult to stretch out our emotions. A state of perpetual excitement, for example, is extremely difficult to maintain. So is a state of sympathy. Yet what happens when the tragedy has not passed (and may not pass) and our sympathetic feelings, our desire to be involved, our sadness in what is, has come to an end?
Do we simply give up?
Do we stop Watching?
First of all let us ask ourselves a probing question: Why is this a problem? Why is it a problem that we no longer feel interested in our Loved One’s suffering? Why is it an issue that we don’t wince as they wince any longer?
Is there anything wrong with this?
I suspect we want to instinctively answer ‘yes’. Yes, there is something wrong when we don’t care about suffering anymore.
That answer is right. But it’s also wrong.
Everything becomes normal
After all, we’re only limited human beings. It is physically impossible to maintain a state of emotion (whatever it is) indefinitely. In one sense it is natural that we don’t really feel very sympathetic any longer. We adapt to every situation. It might take years, but everything, including chronic illness, becomes normal. If it didn’t we wouldn’t be able to cope. Resilience is a blessing.
Sympathy is only a feeling, and a transient one at that, so we should be careful how much importance we place on it. After all, when we lose our sympathy, what has changed?
Nothing. We still have the ability to love and to Watch – it is only our motivation that is lacking. It is not that we suddenly ‘can’t’ we just no longer particularly ‘want’.
And this is a problem. There is such thing as emotional burnout of course, but I’m not talking about that. I am talking about a loss of sympathy, a loss of caring – the more hum drum variety. This post is about a lack of motivation to love stemming from that fact that our Loved One’s suffering no longer impacts our lives like it did at first. It is about becoming tired and apathetic to suffering because we see it every day and nothing ever changes.
“I did not understand, but I knew that it would not pass. And I cried for those things that had happened in the night and would not pass. I cried for T. J. For T.J. and the land.”
Roll of thunder, hear my cry – Mildred D. Taylor
What can we do?
On a base level we can continue to love. We can keep going through the motions even in the absence of accompanying feeling. We are not to give up on ever feeling sympathy again, but we are to continue living and loving without it. To love when we don’t feel like it still blesses our Loved Ones. Firstly, on a physical level, and secondly, because we are demonstrating that we think they are worth the struggle.
In the absence of feeling we are given a chance to cultivate purer emotions. When sympathy vanishes Watching becomes a test. Are we doing it for ourselves or our Loved One? If we are only doing it for ourselves, to make us feel good or content with life, then we will give up as soon as it no longer does that. If we are truly loving our Loved Ones because they are valuable in our sight, then we will strive to continue, even when it’s boring or it hurts.
Close the distance
Let us not let our apathy drive us away. It’s easy to do. Yet in this situation we must do the opposite of our feelings. Let us continue to enter deeply into the lives of our Loved Ones. To ask how they are and to listen to the answer. Drawing away from them during this time will only heighten our lack of emotion. In the same way we need to continue to draw close to God. To tell Him how we feel and to seek nourishment for our souls – even if we feel we don’t need it.
Lastly, we need to remember this is only a period. Life is full of flat plains as well as steep mountains. There is a season for everything. Our apathy and tiredness will not last forever. In time a crisis will push our Loved One’s sickness to the forefront once more. That is the nature of life. If it is possible for us to enjoy this respite, let us do so. Perhaps we can talk to our Loved One about it. Are they feeling the same thing? Are they dry as well? They may be relieved by your admittance. Most of all, let us confess our lack of feeling to God and pray for empathy.
God never runs out of sympathy
Enduring the ‘same old, same old’ is hard, especially when the ‘same’ is chronic sickness. Let us fight to love and Watch even when we don’t feel like it. After all, it is in the flat plains that battles are fought and victories are won, not on the rocky precipices.
And the battle it worth it. Why? Because God is always love. Always sympathy. Always kindness.
He is our example to strive for, and our reassurance to fall back on.
When our kindness dries up, His remains.
// Do you struggle with maintaining sympathy and kindness? Why do you think it is a problem and what do you do about it?
Comment below – this topic is far from thoroughly discussed!