I have a chronic illness, and I’ve recently been challenged about what it looks like for me to serve, specifically in mission (whether domestic or overseas).
Today’s post is my thoughts in regards to a series of questions I was asked by Wendy.
Q1. Why does it seem noble to sacrifice personal comfort to serve God in a third world country, but not to sacrifice your energy (as someone who has chronic fatigue) to serve in my own country?
Firstly, I think you’re right when you say there’s a difference between giving up your health security in a general sense (moving to a 3rd world country) and specifically sacrificing it, knowing exactly what the consequences will be.
Both scenarios involve potential daily suffering, but they are different, and I think it’s very important to acknowledge that at the very beginning.
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.
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’.
It’s easy for us, whose lives are so embroiled with the pain of our Loved One, to forget those around us who aren’t Watchers.
We should not overlook the lives of our wider supporters and focus exclusively on our sick Loved One. So far, so obvious, but how do we put it into practice?
How do we love our wider supporters (and why do we need a post on this?)
Surely, if we all just act like civilised human beings there’s no need for a specific address on how to ‘love’ those who are not watching as we are.
On one hand that’s true, and on another it’s not. You see, Watching means that we are used to having the pain of one person impact our life. We are used to focusing inward, towards them. We know what it is like to relate to people who are suffering.
And we might, in the process, discover we have a lot less patience for those who are not.
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.
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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