Christians are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). But what does that look like when chronic illness is in the picture?
Each of us know someone who is struggling with their physical or mental health, whether this is a result of a diagnosed illness, old age, or the brokenness of society. Perhaps we are battling ill health ourselves. The reason for the illness is not so important. What is crucial is how we respond to it as individuals called to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Caregiving can take many forms.
Christianity and caregiving. It’s a weighty topic, and one with very few resources available. It also often is far too narrowly defined.
Caregiving can take many forms. Caregiving is the mother seeking to love her depressed daughter. Caregiving is the teenage boy driving his cancer ridden brother to appointments. Caregiving is the wife trying to support her husband through his journey in finding a diagnosis for his chronic pain.
For me, caregiving was supporting my younger sister with her brain tumour diagnosis, and my mother with her chronic health conditions and cancer.
While we are all caregivers in one sense, for some of us caregiving has interrupted and reshaped seasons in our life. This has meant things such as:
People ask how our sick loved ones are in every conversation, so we always have to be ready to talk about them, preferably in an uplifting and encouraging manner.
We must daily face our own helplessness and ineptitude. Most caregiving is a long-term designation with little hope for a cure. There is little we can do to help our loved ones, and much we can get very wrong.
We long to complain, because caregiving is a hard and often unnoticed task, yet we dare not. After all, we are the healthy ones, and so even admitting we are struggling can feel like a guilty pleasure.
Care giving helps … you realise how precious the promise of heaven truly is.
Yet despite the very real struggles, caregiving can be immensely rewarding and helpful. This is because caregiving:
- Is often a very real, very practical expression of loving our neighbour. While we may not always love out of pure motives, it is still a blessing to be able to represent Jesus to another.
- Helps us long for eternity. When you spend time with someone struggling with their health, you realise how precious the promise of heaven truly is. You are no longer duped by the eyes of the world; rather you are given clear vision to understand what is truly important.
- Makes you a safe person for others. People who ‘have it all together’ are terrifying. Caregivers never have it all together, and when we let others know this, we can become a listening ear and an encouragement to those coming after us on this journey.
How can the Church love caregivers? Perhaps we can:
- Ask them how they are (not just how their ill loved one is) and don’t assume. We do not know how hard it is for the seven year-old whose father is ill. We mustn’t expect them to be devastated all day long, but can’t expect them to be fine either.
- Provide them with a few ways in which we can practically help, and let them choose. This is much kinder than making them ask for help, or to decide what form that help should take.
- Listen, and be okay to accept sad news or discouraging results without quickly reverting to a cheery smile and a snappy “I’ll pray for you!” Rejoice and mourn with them.
What about caregivers? My friends, let us be reminded that:
- We are not Jesus. We cannot save our struggling loved ones. We cannot even carry their burden for them. What we can do is be there. We can choose to watch their suffering when the world turns away. We can listen. We can pray. We can love, and we can sit down and wait with them for a brighter, softer future.
- We do not have to do it all. God always calls us to love our neighbour, but this does not look the same in every season of life. When you’ve been a caregiver for a while it can be incredibly hard to step away, to accept that someone else can fill your role – even if it’s just for a couple of hours! Yet doing so often brings higher honour to our heavenly Father, because it takes more trust. It also gives someone else a chance to experience the profound blessing of loving another.
- We are called to this. There are no accidents. Good health or chronic illness are not the results of a lottery of genes and upbringing. We do not suffer because of a “fault in our stars” or even, as some suggest, a fault in ourselves. Instead God weaves his plan through time and space, carefully, meticulously, and lovingly. There is glory in the everyday. Caregiving has not disrupted our life. It has enriched it, even if we do not see how, because God never wastes a single moment.
For more musing, practical tips, and information on caregiving and Christianity, see Called to Watch, the resource Emily Maurits created (because, when she was younger, Emily was unable to find encouragement for the caregiving journey).
If you or someone you know is struggling with a chronic health condition, visit Chronic Joy for encouragement and resources from a Christian perspective.