Sunday, February 26, 2017

An Outside Perspective Pt. 2: Responding to Chronic Illness

"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" James 2:15-16

     In my last post, I wrote about chronic illness, and how we who do not struggle with it can better understand what life is like for those who do. Hopefully that was helpful, but simply being more aware and maybe feeling sad about it isn't going to accomplish much when all is said and done. Increased compassion for the hurting is good, and it should lead us to the obvious question: "So what can I do?" I was reading Romans 12 several days ago, a passage which is full of practical guidance for how we ought to live as God's people. Several points are, I think, particularly applicable here.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Romans 12:15
     This doesn't mean, of course, that we should feel guilty when we feel happy, since other people are sad. What it does mean is that, within the Body of Christ, we ought to walk closely enough that when our brother or sister is joyful or suffering, we are affected by it. We experience it with them. Chronic illness makes this difficult because, as I mentioned before, it is so isolating. In the normal course of life, friendships often fade as we see people less, and new ones develop. That's fine, but chronic illness is a bit different. Those who suffer with it are often forced to step back from most, or even all social circles. Life goes on for everyone else, and it begins to seem that everyone has forgotten them.

       "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17) True friendship is proven in times of trial, not shattered or frustrated by it. If someone you know is chronically ill, be intentional about reaching out to them. Let them know that you you are thinking about and praying for them. Keep on being there for them, even when they can't be there for you. If they have to drop a coffee date because they just feel too bad to go out, rather than feeling that you've been ditched, realize how disappointed they must be to miss one more thing they were looking forward to, take some time to pray for them or write them an encouraging note, and make it a point to try again soon. Text or call and ask how they are doing, even when you know the answer will probably be the same. And keep doing it. Don't assume they know you are thinking about them; communicate it."Weep with those who weep" isn't a one time thing. Walking alongside, and being a true friend to someone with chronic illness requires love shown through perseverance and patience.

"Contribute to the needs of the saints..." Romans 12:13a 
Within the Body of Christ we are blessed with a unique family relationship, and as we pray for a brother or sister in need... it may just be that God desires us to be His hands and feet in providing for them. Chronic illness is overwhelming, and not just to the one suffering, but to their family. It is hard, hard, hard to watch someone you love suffering and feel helpless to fix it, and the illness can cause strain in other areas as well. Often, chronic illness becomes a massive financial burden. Some chronic illnesses result in extreme food sensitivities and require a special (translation: expensive) diet. Treatment may involve a laundry list of supplements you couldn't begin to pronounce (again: expensive). Some tests and treatments may not be covered by insurance (expensive expensive expensive). You get the idea. Also, when living with the pain and fatigue of chronic illness in such a fast paced world, routine tasks like cleaning, yardwork, keeping kids busy, and running errands can become overwhelming.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to meeting needs, because needs vary. What is helpful for one person might be stressful for another. So how can you know what will help? Allow me to offer a simple solution that may seem obvious: ask. Don't say “Let me know if there's any way I can help!” That's well meant, I know, but odds are no one is going to call you and say, “Hey, remember when you offered to help awhile back? Well, we're really struggling with the supplement bill this month....” Instead, try something more specific: “What can I do that will be a help to you?” And keep asking. Look for opportunities too. A meal may be a blessing, but if explaining dietary restrictions is too complicated, why not bless them with a gift card to their preferred grocery store instead? Offer an afternoon of childcare so they can rest. Ask if you can pick something up for them at the store. Or maybe just come over for a visit, if they feel well enough. Seek to do something that will really serve and leave them feeling blessed and loved, not just a thing that will salve your conscience for awhile. And before, during, and after seeking to serve, pray.

Speaking of prayer, that will be the topic of my final post in this series: how faith in God plays out in the midst of a trial that can seem hopeless.

**I don't pretend to have this all figured out. These are areas where I need to grow as well.
***Chronic illness is a broad term, and as with anything else, there is no universal stereotype for those who are chronically ill. What is felt by and/or helpful to one person might not be the same as someone else. I don't pretend to speak for all those who suffer with chronic illness, only to offer what I have observed in the hope that it may be helpful. 

1 comment:

Joanna said...

Thank you. From a chronically ill person, I think it's important to validate the caretakers and friends as well!