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.
This is an oft-quoted-out-of-context verse, but raises an important question: What if you can’t give? Is receiving only second best?
What if you feel like you do all the receiving and none of the giving?
Not all of us are positioned to ‘give’ at all times, in all places. Or sometimes when we do give, our gifts end up being more a hindrance rather than a blessing.
Our Loved One is too healthy.
On the surface this doesn’t really seem like an issue, does it? More like an answer to prayer!
And yet, I’d like to propose it can be a problem too.
As we Watchers know, chronic illness is unremitting, that’s the nature of it. But the reality is, chronic illness, like everything has it’s ups and downs. Some days are better than others, some weeks are worse. Sometimes we can joke and other times all we can do is cry.
This ebb and flow is good. It helps us survive. It brings us hope, it gives us relief. But it can also be a hard reality to communicate.
‘How is your Loved One?’ Someone asks. ‘Not well,’ you say. ‘Oh, but I saw them at the grocery shop the other day, they looked so good!’
Considering our future in the presence of chronic illness is even harder. Illness is unpredictable.We can’t say how long our family member will need us, or how soon they will take a turn for the better or the worse.
We need to be realistic, but also hopeful.
Loving someone who is ill or aging means that whatever decisions you make, you are making them for two. That is a lot of responsibility, and there is a huge pressure to ‘choose right’.
Some questions should not be answered.
This is not because they are silly or childish (there’s no such thing as a stupid question, remember?)
Or because they are too difficult.
Or even because the answer is too scary.
No, the only reason you should not answer a question is when you have something to offer that is more important.
But what’s more important than an answer?
Talking about suffering: When not to answer the question
Let’s go back to my friend from the last post. She’s struggling from a mental illness which invades her days and eats away at her personality.
Upset and tired she asks me, ‘Why does God allow this?’
Now there is an answer I can give to this. It is a theologically sound answer.
It is correct in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing wrong with my motives – I love my friend, and want to see her comforted and at peace with God and herself.
All the boxes are ticked… and yet depending on the situation my answer could be extraordinarily hurtful to her. And yet, it might not be!
Why am I sick?
Will I ever get better?
What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
It can take courage to ask these questions. But sometimes, it can take even more courage to answer them.
Today’s post is the first in a series of articles called ‘Talking about Suffering’…
Talking about suffering is hard! (how do you know what to say?)
Figuring out the truths about illness, suffering and the big problems of life is difficult.
It’s a different sort of hard when you are not sick yourself. How often do you feel helpless in the face of such questions? How often do you feel ill-equipped to answer your sick friend’s frustrations?
Even if you ‘know’ the right response (whether that’s an answer, rebuke or piece of advice) you might not know ‘how’ to say it.
Sooner or later all of us want to look into the future. The time comes when we need to sit down with pen and paper and plan out our next few years. The problem with doing this as a Watcher is that chronic illness extends into the future too! It’s a big part of our life and we can’t ignore it or naively pretend that it will simply ‘go away’.
How then do we plan our future, keeping in mind our Loved One’s chronic illness?
How to plan your future while thinking of your sick family member
1. We admit it is hard
I think we’d all admit that planning our future is hard anyway. Whether you have too many possibilities or not enough, it’s difficult to figure out what something we have never experienced will look like. Most of us have dreams we’d like to see become reality, or at the very least we dream that one day we will have dreams.
Considering your future in the presence of chronic illness is even harder. The reason for this is that chronic illness is unpredictable. We can’t say how long our Loved One will need us, or how soon they will take a turn for the worse or for the better. We want to be realistic, but we also want to be hopeful.
Of course life is unpredictable for all of us. I could die tomorrow. And yet loving someone with chronic illness means that my future plans will impact them. Whatever I decide there will be some ramifications in their life – and so the burden to ‘choose right’ becomes even heavier.
Your Loved One has lived with their chronic illness for ten years. There’s been highs and lows, but you’re just beginning to understand what life looks like for them and also for you.
Then a close friend receives a diagnosis. They’re sick. Chronically sick… perhaps with the same illness as your loved One, perhaps a slightly different one.
Everyone is dismayed and shocked. They surround the newly-diagnosed one with gifts of love and support. Maybe they look at you, and assume you too will visit and offer your help. After all, you and your Loved One are ‘old hands’.
Perhaps someone nudges you and quips that maybe the past suffering of your Loved One was preparation for loving this person – that all that agony was raising you up for “such a time as this.”