Good morning, Five Minute Families! Did you know that the Partnership for Solutions at Johns Hopkins back in 2004 pointed out that more than 130 million Americans suffer from a chronic health condition? That means with a population of 330 million, almost every family in American has someone who faces chronic medical issues. Thankfully, some of those households don’t have as heavy of an impact as others. Yet, still, many families struggle with how to handle the effect that a chronic health condition has not only one their loved one but one the entire household.
Dealing with chronic medical issues that sway our daily lives means learning to manage our relationships as much (if not more than) we manage the illness itself. The chronic sufferer needs compassion, kindness, and gentleness, but the family, too, needs to learn how to do that AND how to remind their loved one that he or she is NOT a problem – that they are loved – uniquely, and that we all have to figure out how to deal with the fallenness of this world and its influence on our bodies.
The chronic sufferer may feel like David in Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” Some days may be full of groaning. Be careful, loving family member, not to let them fall into a trap of complaining but also understand that their sharing their daily burden and pains may not be coming from a spirit of complaining. Lots of prayer and patience is needed here.
For those of you who may not know, we have three children who suffer from chronic illnesses. The burden that falls on the rest of the family to pick up the household chores’ slack, to adjust in a moment’s notice, and more, can seem overwhelming at first. We had always tried to practice honest and open communication in our home, but that became even more vitally important as we had to figure out how to reallocate time, money, and efforts into our children’s medical needs. God has been infinitely merciful, bringing relief at various times, and we also have those gut-wrenching moments such as our oldest literally crying out in pain as his treatment is denied by insurance or realizing that I made a $6500 mistake in choosing which hospital to go to. Jim works a full-time job outside the ministry here at Clear View Retreat in order to carry high-quality insurance for our children and to make sure they get the care they need.
So, what can YOU do in your family to help everyone deal with a chronic illness? And, please, realize that we didn’t just gather a list off the internet, we have lived this, so learn from the things we got right and the things we got wrong.
First, watch your words. This can come in many forms. Make sure with little ones that you don’t lie and you don’t make false promises such as “it’ll be alright.” It might not all be alright. Also, to the chronically child or adult in the household, watch how you word things when you are having to adjust the family’s schedule, budget, or something else. He or she may need your reassurance that the adjustment is not a burden – that THEY are not a burden. And, honestly, if you think of your chronically ill loved one as a burden, then you need to do a deep dive study on God’s word about one-anothering.
Second, enjoy the good days. There will be good days. They might not look as good as they did before the illness hit, but there will be good days. Learn to identify them and appreciate them.
Third, learn to diligently (though not obsessively) check your schedule. Whoever the scheduler in the family is… you gotta be flexible. By knowing the needs of each family member, you can more readily adapt when the chronic sufferer is having a really bad day. Basically, always have a plan b.
Fourth, and we cannot stress this enough. Get counseling – not just for sick family member, but for everyone as needed. There will be grief and loss to deal with. There will be changes. There will be instability, and having a proactive pastoring, mentoring, or counseling plan will help tremendously.
And, finally, remember to get into biblical community in any way you can. If you can’t go to the church, message the pastor. See if there is any home visit options. Be honest about your family’s needs and limitations, and be prepared to engage in the community in some way – pray, knitting from home, posting on social media, making food, you get the idea.
Never forget that while it is true that our sufferings become our credentials, we must remember that we will each reach a state of maturity and ability to share and give hope to others in our own time. Love one another. Bear with one another. Take care of one another. Be blessed!