Talking about suffering: Why answering ‘That Question’ is so difficult

Are you a chatterbox? Bring up ‘Sherlock Holmes’, the latest book you’ve read, or something God’s been teaching you… and chances are, I won’t be closing my mouth for a while.

Although I’ve written before about thinking before talking, and even (on occasion!) not speaking at all, the truth is…

I rather like talking.

Yet there are other topics which are less guaranteed to set off an avalanche of words. I suspect it’s the same for you.

I also suspect that one of these might be: ‘why does God allow suffering?’
It’s an important question – so why do we find it so difficult to talk about?
Continue reading “Talking about suffering: Why answering ‘That Question’ is so difficult”

Talking about suffering: When NOT to answer The Question

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!

How do I know? Continue reading “Talking about suffering: When NOT to answer The Question”

Talking about suffering: Why pure motives don’t always make things right

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.

Is this you? It’s often me!
Continue reading “Talking about suffering: Why pure motives don’t always make things right”

LTCI #2: Am I my family’s keeper?

How’s your mum? How’s your sister?’

These are questions I get a lot. They’re great questions. They mean people are thinking about my sick family members, and it shows that the people around me understand that their illnesses are a rather large part of my life.

Most of the time I appreciate the time taken to ask a question like this, and the implied preparedness of the Asker to listen to a ‘deep’ response.

The other week though, I got asked this question twice, and each time it left me feeling guilty.

I bumped into my landlady as I was leaving my house, and she stopped me with a smile, and asked, ‘How is your mum going? And your sister’s health – how is it?’

I smiled in reply – and then froze.

Continue reading “LTCI #2: Am I my family’s keeper?”

Why you should sympathise with first world problems (when your own are much bigger)

I stubbed my toe.
I can’t afford concert tickets.
There’s no chocolate in my house.
Who hasn’t heard such complaints? From friends, colleagues – perhaps from yourself.

We often label them “first world problems”.
And they can be annoying. Especially as Watchers.
Continue reading “Why you should sympathise with first world problems (when your own are much bigger)”

Why I think it’s okay to grieve in Public

Grieving in front of people is not something we’re particularly good at in my culture. Weeping often happens behind closed doors, or in the arms of a loved one.

Yet when a diagnosis of chronic illness enters our lives, or the lives of our family members, it’s impossible to avoid public places, and often just as impossible to avoid tears!

As Christians, church is a public sphere where we may find it hard to contain our grief. For this reason I’m going to use it as an example, but most of what is written below can apply to any public space.

Firstly: should we even be trying to contain our grief?

I don’t think so.

4 Reasons we grieve chronic illness in public

1. We grieve chronic illness in public because we care

Continue reading “Why I think it’s okay to grieve in Public”

Do you laugh at misfortune?

“Just laugh or you’ll go mad.”

It’s advice I hear in hospital corridors and grocery stores.

In this era of ‘political correctness’ there are a surprising number of opportunities to snigger at the antics of dementia patients, our children’s disobedience, or someone else’s misfortune.

So where do we draw the line?

Today I’m guest posting over at Paradigm Shift, so head on over to continue reading this post.

It addresses an issue which is particularly pertinent to us as Watchers!

 

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What to do when our wider supporters hurt us

Wider supporters will hurt us at times

I think it’s important to acknowledge that either directly or inadvertently, wider supporters can sometimes make life harder rather than easier. It’s part of being human and living in a broken world.

They may:

  • Brush away your complaints or concerns. “Ah well, sickness is part of life, isn’t it? We all have burdens.”
  • Ask you to take up ministry opportunities when your life is full of caring for your Loved One
  • Compare your suffering to theirs, “Oh I know exactly how you feel”
  • Tell you exactly how they feel – without asking how you are
  • Assume they know what you need, or what you ought to do
  • Treat you differently because you are a Watcher
  • Treat you exactly the same, as if being a Watcher has not affected you.
  • Treat you as a walking newsletter, rather than an individual in your own right

Continue reading “What to do when our wider supporters hurt us”

Why do our ‘wider supporters’ matter?

We’ve talked about Loved Ones, those of us who suffer day in and day out from either physical or mental illness.
We’ve talked about Watchers, us whose lives are directly affected by their illness, and are called to love them, yet are unable to help them.
But what about those who fit into neither category?

We all like to use labels.

And they are necessary, and useful. Sometimes, however, they miss the mark. They cause us to overlook questions that need to be asked, and they paint the entire situation with broad sweeps, when actually, life is a lot more intricate.

When they leave us talking about ‘them’ and ‘those people’, it’s easy to forget that some of the time, in some circumstances, those people are ‘us’.

We are all wider supporters

It doesn’t matter if we are also individuals suffering with chronic illnesses or caregivers. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never met anyone with a chronic illness or we work in a hospital and it’s all we see.

Continue reading “Why do our ‘wider supporters’ matter?”

Should we use labels?

‘Don’t restrain me.’
‘Labels are limiting.’
‘We shouldn’t put people in boxes.’

‘Everything is fluid.’
‘Categorizing someone stops them reaching their full potential.’

We don’t like labels.

Talk to anyone who is in tune with the 21st century about political correctness and common courtesy and phrases like the above will arise.

Yet it has been blatantly obvious from the very beginning that I have fixed a very firm label on myself and others on this blog.

Here are some of them:

Watchers – those in a close relationship with chronically suffering people

Wider Watchers – those who are not in a close relationship with chronic sufferers

Loved Ones – the chronic sufferers themselves

Labels restrain us

Why have I done this?

To be perfectly simple, I wouldn’t be able to write without them. I need to have these definitions in order to muse and blog and think about our specific situation.

First things first, let’s clear the waters and accept the inevitable truth:

Labels (inadvertently or otherwise) do place limits.

Continue reading “Should we use labels?”