Today, I am very grateful that Hazel Stapleton of On eagles wings has very kindly written a guest post about caring from the perspective someone who needs care. I hope to put up a second post, tomorrow, with some very practical thoughts, from Hazel.
Having been asked to write on the subject of “needing care”, I wasn’t really sure where
to begin! Therefore what follows are simply a few thoughts that I have had on the
subject of caring for and supporting those who have long-term health problems.
Just to give a few details about where I am coming from: I have been ill with M.E.
(Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a neurological condition) since February 1991; I had been
studying to be a nurse at the time, but suddenly became ill following an Hepatitis B
vaccination that I was required to have for my training and I have been ill ever since.
For the first eight years or so I was moderately affected by my illness, but since 1999 I
have had severe M.E. and my health continues to gradually deteriorate. I am mainly
housebound and have to spend much of my time resting. How thankful I am for my
laptop computer and email and the Internet! I live with my parents, both of whom are
past retirement age, and am very dependent on them; this is obviously a matter concern
as Mum and Dad get older.
Over the years I have listened to many sermons and read many books and articles on
the subject of suffering and related issues, some good, some not so good! I guess a lot
depends upon whether or not the speaker or author has had personal experience of
suffering or of caring for someone close to them who is unwell or disabled in some way.
However, even if they have done so, for those who are ill “suffering is a very lonely path,
cut off from others but longing that someone would understand” (Barbara Edwards).
When unable to go out very much and having to spend a lot of the time looking at the
same four walls, it is easy to lose touch with reality. Things that are “normal” for most
people, such as having jobs, getting married, having children, and so on, can seem
abnormal and well out of reach. There are feelings of guilt, of being a burden on those
who care for you, knowing how much your illness affects and limits their lives as well as
your own. Trying to remain positive and cheerful as much as possible is no doubt a help
to those who care - but it is also something of a challenge when feeling ill and in pain!
For those of us who are ill and single, another problem is of course that of loneliness, of
being cut off from other people, of not having a husband or wife - and it is particularly
hard when all those around you appear to be getting married, settling down, and having
However, “the times we find ourselves having to wait on others may be the perfect
opportunities to train ourselves to wait on God” (Joni Eareckson Tada). It is important to
remember that God makes no mistakes. We may not understand why things happen to
us, and we may not find it easy to have to give in. and swallow our pride and let others
do things for us, but for those of us who are Christians, we know that we have a
Sovereign God and that our lives are in His hands. As Calvin put it, “we are not afflicted
by chance, but through the infallible providence of God”.
There are certainly lessons to be learned when ill: “sickness takes us aside and sets us
alone with God, and with all the props removed, we learn to lean on God alone”
(Horatius Bonar). We come to realise that there is nothing that this world offers that can
ultimately give us the comfort and strength that we need to cope from day to day. We
also come to see that, from a practical point of view, we need to let others care for and
help us, to do things which we would usually do for ourselves - whether that be helping
with personal needs, giving a lift to medical appointments, doing some shopping
(although much can now be done online!), or whatever.
For Christians who are involved in caring for a fellow Christian who is ill, don’t forget that
the comfort which a Christian can give to another Christian is unique. Non-Christian
relatives and friends can of course offer help and support, and it is much appreciated,
but it is only Christians who can bring encouragement and minister to their fellow
believers on a spiritual level. We are told to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep
with them that weep” (Romans 12 v 15).
There is, of course, a sense in which real comfort in the midst of suffering can only come
to us from God Himself. We have great consolation in Christ. He knows our sorrows, He
understands what we are going through. We have the Holy Spirit as our Comforter, to
sustain and strengthen us when we feel we are floundering. We have the Scriptures.
We know that “all things work together for good to them that love God” and that “the
sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall
be revealed in us” (Romans 8 v 28, 18). Times of suffering and affliction provide
opportunities for us to witness and to glorify God. Quoting Horatius Bonar again: “What
a God-honouring thing to see a struggling, sorrowing child of earth cleave fast to God,
calmly trusting Him, happy and at rest in the midst of storm and suffering”.