Supporting the chronically ill, living life and finding hope
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.
“Being There” for someone struggling is GOOD – but there are temptations along the way…
Watching is dangerous.
It’s not very “politically correct” to talk about morals when we discuss suffering. Ethics, certainly, but morals? They’re a bit more personal, a bit more offensive. After all, how can you suggest that someone in pain is responding the ‘wrong’ way?
At the same time, I think it’s essential. As a Christian, I want to become more like Jesus – and so it’s important to me to acknowledge the overt temptations I encounter. Even if you do not share my faith, I think we all would like to ‘build our character’ and ‘become a better person’ or ‘live up to our own standards’. It’s part of being human.
It’s important than, to acknowledge that Watching or care-giving can be morally dangerous. This because it contains the two ingredients which are often present when something good turns sour.
I find it quite difficult to respond to: ‘How are you?’
It doesn’t seem like an appropriate answer.
It seems a bit silly to even have to say this, but when a Loved One is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can make us feel sad.
It sounds ridiculous. Of course when someone is sick it is going to make us sad. But I genuinely believe it’s not that simple. At least it wasn’t for me.
4 reasons we find it hard to be sad after a diagnosis
1. Sadness is unexpected
To be sad – and only sad – is quite rare.
Life is complex, and so we are often experience several emotions at a time, particularly in the wake of a chronic illness diagnosis.
Our grief is often tainted with anger or bitterness or frustration, or even exhaustion. As a result, when we find ourselves ‘simply’ sad, and ‘only’ grieving, it can feel a bit odd. It is an experience we are not prepared for, and don’t know how to cope with.
So what do we do (as Christians and/or as Watchers) with the parts of the Bible that promise immediate healing?
Why do passages in the Bible promise healing but not deliver?
First disclaimer: I’m not a trained theologian.
Second disclaimer: context is important, but for the sake of a read-able blog post I haven’t included the surrounding chapters of each of these verses.
Third disclaimer (this is the most important!): I can’t promise a miracle. But I can offer you company as you look through theses verses and puzzle over them. I can offer you my thoughts, and a chance to put aside your assumptions and your aching heart to read these passages anew.
Why should we pray for healing if our Loved One’s illness is chronic?
Prayer is not a choice
If a wizard doesn’t have a wand, we begin to doubt whether he truly is a wizard.
If he has one, and doesn’t use it… well that’s just silly!
Likewise, the Bible says if we are Christians, prayer for healing is not just an optional extra if we feel in the right mood (Ephesians 6:18; James 5:13). It’s part of who we are.
We want healing, plain and simple. And if we’re not asking God for it, I suspect it means we’re asking someone else.
Perhaps we have pinned our hopes on doctors and treatments (the gifts rather than the Giver) or simply ‘fate’ (what will be will be).
If the former, we’ve created idols; if the latter, we’ve lost sight of God’s bigness and sovereignty.
Prayer can sometimes feel like something of little consequence. A few muttered words, clenched fists, perhaps closed eyes. Yet I think, as Watchers, praying for healing is a unique way we can live out our faith.
It is faith in action and glorifies God as trustworthy and powerful.
They are sick and I am not.
I can leave the house. They cannot.
I can eat anything I want. They must not.
Guilt is an emotion that it is easy to struggle with after a diagnosis of chronic illness.
When we as Watchers see how the illness is impacting our Loved One’s lives, and envision how it will continue to impact their lives,… the guilt creeps in.
Why do we feel guilty?
When we are out partying or simply enjoying a day at the beach we feel guilty because our Loved One can’t be there with us.
Or perhaps they can – but they are exhausted and have to sit down and miss out on the fun. Maybe they have a health problem they need to worry about, and the experience, enjoyable for us, is isolating for them.
We receive what they do not – and so we feel guilty. Days out become a guilty pleasure. It seems wrong to arrive home to our Loved One or visit them, and recount the fun we had with our healthy body and mind.
Yet guilt is not just about imbalance. For instance, if instead of being painful, lonely and debilitating, chronic illness was like winning the lottery, I don’t think we would feel guilty.
I think we’d feel jealous.
Instead, chronic illness is awful, and so we feel guilty. Their life has been ruined. It is restrictive, it is pain filled. They will climb mountains and descend into valleys which we will never tread.
Likewise, we will enjoy delights that they never will.
Our close relationship with our Loved One means we can’t forget or ignore these imbalances.
After all there are thousands of people in slavery across the world and on the whole we do not spend our hours feeling guilty about our own freedom.
In one sense our role in someone else’s chronic illness is quite small. We certainly can’t ‘redeem’ their suffering or even carry their burden for them! HOWEVER, I do believe that Watching someone going through a hard time and “being there” for them is the very best thing you can do.
Our role in someone else’s suffering is bigger than we think because:
1: The people we Watch are precious
There’s a line in the Jewish Talmud which states:
‘To save one Jewish life is the same as saving the world entire.’
That is an immense claim and it raises a lot of problematic questions (such as: does that mean everything is permissible if it saves one life? What if that person is a murderer? What does it actually mean to save a life?).
Rather than delving into the philosophy behind this quote, I want to focus on the fact that every life is infinitely important.
Each person is created by God, in the image of God, for a purpose and a reason.
God cares deeply about each and every life – and so should we.
2: The people we Watch are immortal
C. S. Lewis touches on this when he describes us as having “immortal souls” (The Weight of Glory).
We are creatures of eternity.
As a result our lives are important. Not only our lives after death, but our lives before it too.
Every second that we live on this earth is one of cosmic significance. Not because we are great but because we are greatly loved.
Our Loved Ones have immortal souls.
There are beautiful things on this earth that only last a short while. Sunsets die away and flowers whither. Yet God did not create us to be sunsets or withering flowers. He gave us eternal souls and in doing so demonstrated that in His eyes we are more important than all the beauties of nature.
Not only so, but He sacrificed Himself to have a relationship with the human race despite the fact that we are undeserving of such love.
3: The people we Watch are not accidents or mistakes.
It is this careful creation and painstaking redemption that sanctifies every prosaic moment on earth. Every smile, every phone call, every scrubbed kitchen floor has eternal consequences.
Our role as Watchers is important because God has given it to us.
The huge sacrifices of time and money are important – and so are the tiny, speechless moments. The visible burdens are significant and so are the unseen ones.
If God has said that washing the dishes is important, who are we to argue otherwise?
Will you embrace your role and see it as important?
While Watching is not an answer to the ‘Problem of Pain’ that doesn’t mean we’re not important. If a spoon won’t cut my toast, it doesn’t mean the spoon is useless. It simply means it was created for something else.
Watching is not an antidote to suffering, but it may be a balm.
We may not be able to solve their problems or even lessen their pain. Our endeavours to soothe may be useless and our attempts to help may prove futile. But standing by one person and loving them is enough. Living the life of a Watcher because we have no choice is enough.
It is enough because people matter. Every one of us is precious, immortal and part of God’s plan. As a result our role in someone else’s suffering – even when it seems insignificant – it actually huge.
// Do you believe your everyday life is important? Do you live like it is?
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