How many times have you thought, ‘I just need to get through this, and then I can stop and pick up the pieces’? Or, ‘the only way on is through, so I need to get this over and done with as quickly as possible’?
While these attitudes might work for certain things, like getting through an essential task after receiving bad news, or even doing an unpleasant job like putting out the rubbish, they’re not great attitudes for the long haul.
Sometimes in chronic illness and caregiving, it can seem like we’re doing it all wrong. We may feel guilty, ashamed, that we’re not good enough, or haven’t done enough. Maybe it’s because we feel as though we’ve run out of sympathy or we’ve moved away and can’t help as we used to. Are these helpful feelings? Are they even reality? And how do we know?
Sometimes it can be really difficult to discern whether our feelings are correct. We all feel guilty at times over things we have no need to feel guilty about, often because we have an inaccurate view of our role. We might even feel an acute sense of shame, as though there’s something wrong with us because we haven’t coped with being a Watcher as well as we think we should have, or as well as other people seem to.
If you’re in that situation right now, here are 4 questions to ask yourself.
ONE: What do the other people in the situation say?
Stop listening to yourself for a moment, and listen to the people around you, your family, your friends, your Loved One. What are they saying? Listen to their actions and body language as well as their words.
Do you get the impression that they think you’re not good enough?
TWO: What does an entirely objective person say?
Sometimes those closest to you see you differently to others. They may have unrealistic expectations or be holding on to past grievances. It’s important to find out what someone outside the situation is seeing.
Who can you ask? If you see therapist, counselor or psychologist, ask them. If you have a close friend or mentor who doesn’t know your family, ask them. It could even be someone you don’t know very well, such as a colleague at work. Just say, ‘Do you mind if I run something by you? I’m in a situation and I’d really appreciate an objective perspective.’ You’d be surprised at people’s willingness to listen – most people will feel honoured that you came to them, and flattered to be asked their advice.
Simply outline the situation, and then your feelings about the situation, and end with the question: ‘In your opinion, do these match up?’
THREE: What does God say?
Humans are fallible, and even the most objective colleague is going to bring past experiences and bias into the situation. God however, does not.
Read the Bible: what does it say about being a loving friend? How does the Bible define success or failure? What does the Bible say about sin, shame or guilt?
Think of Jesus’ interactions with the many individuals in the New Testament. Who do you identify with most right now? What did Jesus say to them?
Tell God the story. It’s amazing how clear the situation can become when we sit in the presence of God and tell him the whole story, knowing he already knows all about it, and loves us anyway. In the presence of God circumstances sometimes become less complex, because we begin to see them against the backdrop of eternity and the values and priorities of Jesus’ kingdom.
FOUR: If you were someone else, what advice would you give?
Although this is the last question on the list, it might be one of the first you ask. Often the advice we give to others is kinder and more objective than the advice we give ourselves. So often we hold ourselves to a higher standard because we are more invested in ourselves. This can be really helpful, but at times we need to take a step back.
One way to do this is to write out the situation, giving yourself a different name. Then insert yourself into the story: what would you tell that person?
Another way is to simply write out the situation using ‘I’ and spelling out all your thoughts and feelings. Then, underneath, write a letter to that past version of yourself. When I do this, I often end up writing, ‘If I could be with you right now, I’d sit beside you and give you a hug. Then I’d tell you…’
So… what now?
Your feelings were correct.
You are actually in the wrong in this situation. Not because you failed to be perfect, but because you failed to love. Run to our God who forgives, and with his help do your best to mend the situation.
Your feelings were incorrect.
Take it to God. Explain the situation. Talk it through. Take some time to recalibrate your perspective of yourself with his perspective of you! Take courage in the fact that God came to remove all shame and disgrace – even misplaced shame.
Uncover a nugget of Biblical truth and use it to combat these feelings when they resurface, such as ‘my worth comes ultimately from God, not anything I do or am’ (Romans 5:8).
Lastly, my friends, whether you’ve discovered you can trust your feelings today or you can’t, do not despair! We serve a God who always forgives and is able to transform all situations, feelings and people for his glory and the promise of a better world.
// Do you ever feel like a failure as a Watcher? After reading this post, what’s one thing you’re going to do today to address this?
We’ve talked about how to trust and how to be trustworthy in the context of chronic illness – even when it’s really hard. We know how important trust is, and what a gift it can be. But what do you do when trust is broken? When things don’t go as they should go, when words are said that can’t be unsaid, or when actions speak louder than words and the message they send is wrong and unkind?
It’s happened to all of us, and it will happen again. We trust someone, and we are let down. Or we let someone else down, and feel like we’ve failed them and ourselves as well. Or perhaps we’ve simply refused to trust for so long that our relationships lie in tatters around us, and our world is not the place we hoped it would be.
What do we do? Can trust be repaired?
I think so. Trust is a decision we make over and over, and so there are always opportunities to learn to trust again. We live in a world that is moldable, and full of possibilities. We serve a God who is able to work in impossible situations. Furthermore, people are not static, we are continually developing and changing and so relationships too can always change for the better. But how do we get there? Here are some steps you might find helpful:
ONE: Grieve that we live in a world where people are not perfect and trust is broken.
Grief is about acknowledging hurt. Nothing can be changed until it is accepted in all its complexity, and one way to accept is to mourn.
Grieve for what could have been.
Grieve for what can never be.
Grieve for opportunity lost.
Grieve for feelings hurt.
Grieve for broken relationships.
Grieve for a torn apart world.
Grieve that life is not as it should be. This might sound depressing, and a bit like wallowing in self-pity, but I want to maintain that it is important. The reality is, life is not supposed to be like this – full of struggle and brokenness and trustlessness. When we accept this, it is going to be painful, and there’s going to be some grief involved. That’s okay.
TWO: Define the situation.
Having your trust broken hurts. Failing to be someone who is trustworthy hurts. It can be really helpful to define the situation to yourself, as though you’re telling someone else. Aside from all the emotions and interpretations and meaning you’ve placed on things said or done – what actually happened? What was actually done? What was actually said?
It’s easy, in our leap to deal with the pain of a broken relationship, to assign blame wrongly. Take a step back, take a breath, and give yourself a chance to write things out.
THREE: Talk together about what happened.
Sometimes it’s better to wait for a while before bringing up the situation, sometimes it might need to be addressed straight away. Whatever the case, it can be helpful to define the desired outcome before you go into the discussion. What will make this conversation ‘successful’ in your eyes? This is important because so often we enter conversations with unrealistic expectations (the other person will apologise immediately with tears) and then we throw yet another emotion (disappointment) into the mix. Here are some expectations I find helpful:
This conversation will be successful if:
I listen to what the other person has to say.
I accept blame where appropriate and ask forgiveness.
We remain friends.
Sometimes the conversation is not going to be ‘successful’ according to our definition – and that’s okay! It may be painful, but it can be helpful to remember that you tried to fix the situation; God is ultimately in control; and there may be another chance for resolution.
FOUR: Make the decision to trust again.
Trust is crucial in relationships, and a beautiful gift. When broken, it can be really difficult to continue in a relationship, to make the effort to reach out, to be trustworthy.
There are times where it is not possible to trust someone in the same way again, and times when you will need to redefine your relationship with someone so that you can trust again. What is important is that we remember that we serve a great God. Trust is always possible in some respect and mended relationships can happen. Let’s face the future with hope, because while trusting will always be costly, not-trusting is even pricier.
//So what do you think? Are these steps helpful? Do they seem too optimistic? Too black and white? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Have you read my memoir, Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour? It’s the story of (you guessed it!) two sisters, the diagnosis which turned their lives upside down, and ended up saving them. It’s a raw, honest account of hunting for hope in the darkness of chronic illness and caregiving, and finding laughter and even joy along the way.
Trust. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give someone, but it’s always costly because there’s never 100% certainty it will end well.
So how do you make trusting your chronically ill friend a habit when there are times you really don’t want to, but you’ve asked yourself the questionsand you think you should? Before we explore the answer, let’s brainstorm some scenarios, because trust is never abstract.
It’s hard to make trust a habit when…
Your chronically ill friend..
… is going through a rough patch and you know you should ask how they’ve tried to fix it, and what resources they’ve drawn upon – but really, you think that’s a waste of time since you know exactly what needs to be done.
… wants to go with you to the party and say they’ll be fine – and you are almost positive they won’t be fine and you’ll end up having to leave early to take them home.
… tells you they’re feeling nauseous after eating carrots – and you think it’s all ‘in their head’ and want to roll your eyes every time they bring it up.
As different as these situations are, each prompts the question: will you choose to trust your friend, or will you trust in your own capabilities? You want to make trust a habit… but it’s just so hard. What do you?
How to make trust a habit
1. Ask yourself why you don’t want to
Making trust a habit is hard for all of us, and generally, it’s not something we instinctively choose. But what is it about this particular relationship or situation that you are finding so difficult? Sometimes our pragmatic reason (I’ll save my friend a lot of trouble if I just step in and fix it) is hiding a more subjective motivation (I like feeling in control).
If you’re having trouble trusting, try and voice the specific reason, and check for underlying motivations!
2. Alter your first reaction
It’s easy to get in the habit of cynicism, and assume everyone is lying, exaggerating or incapable of making a balanced decision. This sounds rather dangerous, but it can manifest in subtle ways: an incredulous ‘really?’ when someone tells you something you think unlikely; a quick scramble to find a different explanation when the one we’re given contradicts our assumptions; a disinclination to take someone’s story at face value.
I’m not talking about wisdom vs. gullibility. I’m talking about when our first reactionis to disbelieve someone rather than listen to the end, or ask questions, or to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes trust is as simple as swapping the ‘Really?’ for a ‘Really? Tell me more.’
3. Make a settled decision
This ties in with the point above. Most of us are not particularly good at trusting ‘off the cuff’. Perhaps, in one sense, that’s wise. But I think it’s important that we sit down and choose to make a settled decision to give as many people the gift of trust as possible.
Why? For me, it’s a way of honouring others as individuals, an exercise of trust in God, and because I want to live in a trusting world.
4. Give up regrets
For all of us there have been times when we trusted and it fell through. Perhaps the person chose to be untrustworthy, perhaps they couldn’t help it, perhaps circumstances outside of our control meant that our gift of trust spawned painful consequences. In light of that, it can be difficult to choose to make trust a habit.
I’m not saying it’s wise to keep trusting someone who has proved untrustworthy in high-stakes situations. I am saying that we can’t base our present decisions on past regrets. This situation is different because it’s here, now, not back then. When we give up trusting everyone and everything because we’ve been duped or disappointed, we hurt ourselves and those around us.
5. Say no to self-protection as a number one priority
This demands explanation. It’s wise to look after ourselves. But that’s different to making self-protection a priority at all costs. When we make self-protection our number one priority, we refuse to trust in any situation which could lead to hurt or pain or discomfort. We might still be willing to trust, but only when we won’t bear the consequences, or, at the very least, won’t bear them alone.
If we protect ourselves like this, we might live a less-painful life. But at what cost? The cost of deep relationships with others and with God, the cost of freedom and the cost of never experiencing the joy which comes from ‘bearing one another’s burdens’ and looking beyond ourselves.
A final word
Trust is hard and failure is common, but the good thing is that opportunities to trust come multiple times a day! It’s never too late to make trust a habit, and in the meantime, we have a good God who forgives us when we choose not to trust out of selfish motivations. He is always trustworthy and always ready to hear us when we need to talk things over.
// What can you do this week to make trust a habit?
Missed my Christmas Gift? To keep in the loop about my upcoming memoir, follow the link below!
‘I trust you.’ ‘I believe you.’ ‘Okay.’ Expressions of trust can seem simple, and can be a great gift to those who receive them. When we trust another person, we show respect, bolster confidence, and validate experience.
We are effectively saying, ‘I hear you,I believe you know what you’re talking about, and I am going to assume that you are capable and autonomous until proven otherwise.’ We are demonstrating a ‘firm belief in someone’s reliability, ability and truthfulness’ (thank you, Oxford Dictionary).
So far that sounds quite straightforward.
Yet in the context of chronic illness, trust can often be accepting your chronically ill Loved One’s assessment of their capabilities, believing their description of the situation, and assuming they have valid ideas, dreams and motivations.
When you’re an extrovert a chronic illness binding you to your home is an obvious torture. Yet what about those introverts among us? Is it easier for them?
Obviously there’s nothing ‘easy’ about having a chronic illness, but the question still stands: does a chronic illness impact an introvert in the same way as an extrovert?
And if so, what does this mean for us as we try and support our sick introvert friends?
I think the first thing we have to realise is this:
Sickness and introvert-ism are two very different things
Introverts recharge by ‘alone time’. If chronic illness means they spend large periods of time alone, well, surely that equals a lot of ‘recharging’, right?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Introverts do not get energy solely from being away from other people. Thus it is possible to be physically away from others but not re-charge.
You see, it is not restful to be alone but unable to think clearly. It is not relaxing to be alone but to have a pounding headache. It is not rejuvenating being alone when illness prevents you from dreaming and pondering and wondering!
We’re all different and unique. Some of us are introverts, and others of us are extroverts. In the normal scheme of things, we can navigate our differences. But what happens when chronic illness is thrown into the mix?
Introverts are well known for being ‘quiet, bookish types’ and extroverts for being ‘raging party animals’. Of course, it’s not that simple. Still, an easy definition (and the one I’ll use for this series) is:
Extroverts obtain energy from being around people.
Introverts re-charge from being alone.
Yet if chronic illness limits an extrovert’s socialising opportunities, how are they supposed to ‘re-charge’? How can we care for and love a sick extroverted friend?
Keep reading for FOUR thoughts and FOUR practical tips…
Should you serve your local community if your family member is sick?
If you are part of a local church or community, there are probably numerous opportunities to serve. Often during a Sunday morning worship service alone, you could potentially:
Play a musical instrument
Do a reading or announcement
Usher people in
Open up/lock up the building
Help in baby sit
Teach in Sunday school
Clean up the kitchen/building
… and that’s all within the space of about two hours! Throughout the week there are often many other situations in which you can fulfil the Biblical commandment to serve and love one another.
Yet it’s not that easy, is it? Those of us who have a family member with a chronic illness can find all the opportunities to serve somewhat daunting. There is so much need… and yet perhaps we find ourselves ill-suited to fill it.