Supporting a Loved One with Chronic Illness

Posted on Friday, February 9, 2024 by Air1 Pastors

Supporting a Loved One with Chronic Illness
 

Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT

 

It is hard to know exactly when it started, but there were signs that something was terribly wrong. We were living as missionaries in Africa when my wife was infected with giardia while she was pregnant. This bacteria resides in the digestive system, where it wreaks havoc on the body and causes severe dehydration.

When pregnant, the female body will direct most of its energy to the formation of the new life. However, when sickness threatens the mother’s life, the body can rush into preterm labor. The good news is God miraculously preserved the lives of my wife and daughter. But after she gave birth, we noticed something wasn’t quite right.

We were absolutely crushed to find out that our daughter was born with a malformed brain, with a life expectancy limited to only nineteen years. We had no idea how much our lives would change after hearing this news. Sadly, we were forced to leave the African mission field, and instead, our days were filled with difficult doctor visits and therapist appointments.

Through all this pain, I’m happy to share that our daughter has outlived the nineteen-year life sentence given to us by the doctors, but she is still unable to walk, talk, or feed herself. It has taken a heavy toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually, but our daughter has been one of God’s greatest gifts to our family. My wife and I have been blessed to care for our daughter for over twenty-five years now and we praise God for His great faithfulness to us.

I can remember specific times when I had to stay up all night long to provide total care for my wife and daughter. If it had not been for family and friends walking with us and bearing some of the weight of our burdens, we could not have made it. Overall though, this whole journey with my daughter has been the hardest on my wife. As a mother, she naturally wants to nurture, but there are times when she needs to be cared for as well.

If you are a caregiver for a loved one, know that this is a highly honorable calling from God. The Creator God Himself is a caregiver, and we are commanded to care for others, especially our family members, just like He does. So, after decades of being a caregiver myself, I have learned these helpful tips for how to support your loved ones who are chronically ill.

 

1. Educate yourself. Take the time to learn about your loved one’s illness. Understand their symptoms, treatment options, and potential challenges. This knowledge will help you empathize with their experience and provide more informed support.

“I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths.” – Proverbs 4:11 NLT

 

2. Stay positive and provide hope. Chronic illnesses can be emotionally draining, so sustaining a positive attitude can make a great and significant impact. Create a safe environment relationally so they feel free to openly express their feelings, fears, and frustrations. Actively listen to them without any hint of judgment. Commit yourself to being a source of motivation and encouragement to them for as long as they are dealing with the illness. Sometimes, all they need is someone who understands and acknowledges their emotions.

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT

 

3. Be flexible and understanding. Understand that their illness may impact their ability to participate in certain activities or remain constant to certain commitments. Be flexible and adaptable to their needs. Avoid placing unnecessary pressure on them and encourage them to prioritize self-care.

“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

 

4. Offer practical support. Chronic illnesses can make daily tasks challenging. Offer your assistance with practical matters such as running errands, cooking meals, or managing appointments. Even small gestures can alleviate the burdens they face.

“We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:2 NLT

 

5. Offer emotional support. Chronic illnesses can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. Be a source of emotional support by checking in regularly, sending encouraging messages, or even accompanying them to medical appointments. Your presence can be comforting and reassuring.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.” – Philippians 4:6 NLT

 

6. Encourage self-care. Help your loved one prioritize self-care practices, both physical and emotional. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy, maintain a balanced lifestyle, and seek professional help when needed.

“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT

 

7. Avoid unsolicited advice. Probably my best advice for dealing with someone who struggles with chronic illness is to avoid unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice can be overwhelming and seem condescending to someone with a chronic illness. Instead, ask if they would like advice or information and respect their decision if they decline.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

 

8. Practice self-care yourself. It can be very draining to care for someone with a chronic illness, and you can easily suffer from compassion fatigue yourself. Seek intentional assistance from others to help bear the burden. Exercise to stay fit physically, take time to rest, and practice spiritual disciplines such as daily Bible reading, prayer, and worship. Seek Biblical counseling or maintain Christian friendship to keep a healthy perspective mentally.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessings if we don’t give up.” – Galatians 6:9 NLT

Caring for others causes us to mirror who Jesus is. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can not only endure caring for someone, but you can also thrive! Jesus said that He came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, no matter the difficult circumstances we may face. I pray that you embrace the call to love and serve with gentle kindness like Jesus does, and see the fruit of His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control in abundance!

 

Dig Deeper

1. In what ways can you best cultivate self-care and seek support for yourself as a caregiver while providing care for your loved one with a chronic illness?

2. How can you deepen your understanding of empathy and compassion to better support your loved one?

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Health

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