What to do when you are unable to serve your local community due to sickness

There are seasons for all of us where we are not able to do all we want. When chronic illness enters the picture, these seasons can be long indeed. It can be especially difficult when we are unable to serve or help our local community.

what to do when you are unable to serve your community due to illness #chronicillness #suffering #loneliness #caregiver #pain #caregiving #emotions #faith #God #Hope

For those of us who are part of a church, a neighbourhood, a sports club or a community group we know what it is to volunteer our time and energy. It is a worthwhile and often enjoyable experience.

It can be challenging and even draining, but there’s something about working as part of a team toiling towards a common goal that can be very uplifting.

If you are a Christian, it is also part of fulfilling Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour”.

Yet illness can get in the way of even our most passionate desires to serve. Being available for a Loved One struggling with their health can mean we are unable to give of our time or energy.

So what do we do?

We need to acknowledge that it is hard not to serve

It’s hard to ‘do nothing’

Not serving in visible ways is difficult. We can appear less committed, or simply lazy. We can feel guilty about saying ‘no’ to people, or we can feel left out that other people get to bond and serve while we are at home.

It’s hard to explain why we’re ‘doing nothing’

It takes courage not to serve. It takes even more courage to explain to others why we are not serving when they ask.

Sometimes, however, the hardest thing is allowing ourselves to seem ‘uncommitted’ or ‘less’ of a Christian without feeling the need to defend our decision to everyone who hasn’t asked. It’s in times like these that we need to cling onto the truth that it is God we are serving, not ourselves and not others.

He is enough, let’s fight to trust Him.

It’s hard to remain open to the possibility of doing ‘something’

When we are not serving it is also important that we remain open to serving.

We can do this by remaining interested in ‘acts of service’ or domestic missions. We can pray for those who can serve. We can praise God that there are so many opportunities to serve, and we can ask those involved to share their struggles and joys with us.

Not only is this loving, and part of being a member of the Christian family, but it is also pragmatic.

Situations change, and who is to say that we will not be free to serve in a few months, or a few decades? There is no need to slam doors and lock them as well.

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We need to be prepared to be asked by others to serve

Being asked to serve, even if we cannot, is an opportunity, not an insult. Instead of getting frustrated – don’t they know we have a sick father and are rushed off our feet? – we use it as a chance to:

ONE: Ask about the ‘act of service’

– perhaps we can serve in another smaller way. At the very least we may be able to pray

TWO: Remain open

– sometimes there’s great value in saying ‘I can’t at the moment, but maybe in a few years.’ ‘No’ doesn’t have to mean ‘never’.

THREE: Question yourself

– Can we genuinely not serve, or have we been tricked into using our status as a Watcher to get out of it?

FOUR: Use it as a conversation starter with our Loved One

– not to make them feel guilty if we cannot serve because of them, but to ‘keep them in the loop’ about our life and the community.

There’s nothing wrong with explaining our feelings (we can’t serve) and asking their opinion

what to do when you are unable to serve your community due to illness #chronicillness #suffering #loneliness #caregiver #pain #caregiving #emotions #faith #God #Hope what to do when you are unable to serve your community due to illness #chronicillness #suffering #loneliness #caregiver #pain #caregiving #emotions #faith #God #Hope

We need to acknowledge that when we take an opportunity to serve we might feel guilty.

Sometimes we genuinely have the time and ability to serve – and so we do. Yet instead of feeling satisfied, we feel guilty!

This can be for two reasons:

We feel guilty because we are living a life our sick family member cannot.

We are out of the house and working with others, and we’re afraid they may feel jealous. Either way, it doesn’t seem fair.

A solution?

We trust God with our Loved One’s life and emotions, and take refuge in His sovereignty. We also trust our Loved Ones – it is not up to us (generally) to act as a filter least we hurt them – and so we share if we can, sensitively and out of love.

We feel guilty because our Loved One makes us feel that way.

Perhaps they are angry that we can leave the house and they can’t. Perhaps they begrudge us every minute away from  home or genuinely think we are neglecting them

A solution?

We speak to them and explain their feelings. We share (wisely) our struggles with others whom we can trust and ask for prayer, advice, and an outside eye. Most of all we speak to God, and by laying it all at His feet seek to serve Him above all else.


Serving is a huge blessing, but it can be a complex one –and especially so for us Watchers! Let us pray continually as we make decisions regarding where we will spend our time, and search through our own motives and desires.

Most of all, let’s rest on the reality that it’s not what we do, but who we are in Christ that ultimately matters!

// Have you ever been asked to serve when you could not? How did you feel? Is there anything you find particularly hard about ‘not serving’?

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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.