A female reader writes:
I really enjoy your blog and I have read it since its inception.
I was wondering if you could find it in your heart to give me some advice, as an older wife to a younger one who is isolated from normal wives.
What is a traditional wife to do when she is sick, especially if the illness is long-term and may never resolve itself? I feel like such a failure. I can’t cook for my family or clean my own house. I can barely care for my children adequately.
I feel like there must be some kind of women’s wisdom as to what I am supposed to be doing in this situation, that I just never got, like I never got anything else I needed to know about how to run a household.
I am sorry you are not well. My sympathy and prayers go to you from afar, dear and precious one who tries so hard and never gives up. Chronic illness is like a holding cell. Every morning, you wake up and there you are. The four block walls of your pain and fatigue stare you in the face. You are in solitary confinement no matter how many people surround you. It’s not much consolation that so many others have lived, and do live, in the exact same sort of cell, the prison of illness.
Without complaining, you need to state matter-of-factly to friends and family that your life has changed. You are not well. Sometimes it’s easy to assume people understand, but they may not see what is going on. You need to be blunt. Drop all extra obligations and focus on what is immediately before you. Many churches have care committees that offer help. It’s not necessary to be on the verge of death to ask these committees for support. Don’t be ashamed to ask. You might be surprised at the warm welcome you receive. If not, don’t be embarrassed that you have sought help.
If you live in one of those places where there are few women at home, things are likely to be much harder. It makes such a difference for a friend to take your children for a few hours or bring you dinner. Many women get happiness and fulfillment from doing these things for each other and now they are cut off from their own charitable instincts by careers and lives of impressive busyness. Just one helpful friend can make a tremendous difference. If you don’t have this, that void is every bit as much of a burden as your illness. It is not your fault.
It takes stamina and energy for a healthy woman to manage a home and care for children. It is impossible for you to do it in the same way. (I’m assuming you can’t afford to hire help. That obviously would make a difference.) It sounds as if you are thinking about what you can’t do and not focusing on however little that you can. You have to expect less in every department and remember that no matter how much you can’t do, you are still irreplaceable. Your presence alone matters.
Do as little as necessary to get by. Someday your children will be older and they will help. You should enlist their help as soon as you can. Don’t feel sorry for your children or your husband because they have a sick mother and wife. Don’t feel sorry for them at all. They have you. You have given them life. That is enough. Besides, sickness provides the opportunity for an entire household to slow down and to spend more time talking or doing simple things.
Your illness is not a detour from reality. There’s a temptation to look at the rest of the world, so energetic and vital, and think they are more alive while you live in some kind of lesser, shadow world. This is false. You are more alive at these times than those who are filled with so much vitality. You are closer to the center of things. They cannot see their own mortality and the fact of death. It awaits us all and fortunate are those who see it clearly.
No moment is wasted. No time is lost. You are not on a side path, but on the main road, heading step-by-step to your ultimate destination. When you arrive there, every moment you have loved God despite your misery will be remembered. I don’t say this out of pie-in-the-sky sentimentality or wishful thinking. I say this because it is logically deducible from the facts of our existence, from the laws of nature, from our subjective experience of the world, and even from the love you still feel for your children despite your illness. This love is a form of self-forgetfulness. Where did it come from? It must have come from a Being capable of even more love.
You are confined by illness, but still you are alive and on the move every hour of the day.
Beautiful response–I got a lot out of it because I dealt with my own chronic condition for so long. I hope this lady will PRAY and cry out to God for healing and help. He will provide, in his time. I have experienced this! Sometimes he heals us and sometimes he helps us cope better.
How are you so wise as to know that those of us without as much physical vitality have more time to think? We have more time to pray and get closer to God too. So many things in my life that were meant by the enemy to be curses ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.
I have learned the ordinary way as you have. In our personal encounters with illness, we are not obligated to put a pretty face on suffering. It is no sin to be angry and outraged, as was Job, by the evil of illness or misfortune. In fact, I think there’s a moral obligation not to sugar-coat things. We have been dealt a bad hand and it’s not fair. It is wrong, however, to let this admission draw us into nihilism and I think this only happens with those who face illness with hubris and with blindness to the general lot of humanity, to the stunning miracle of their own existence and to the constant and inescapable presence of evil, with its unrelenting desire to wear us down and to convince us we don’t possess the strength to fight. Illness is a sanctifying experience, or it can be one. As Rita said, there is more time for thought and prayer and reverie. If you return to health, you will never wish to go back and become the person you were before you were ill. Never. The people I know who have faced illness with courage, humility and the will to do battle are clearly superior human beings. It doesn’t matter whether other people recognize their holiness. God does.
Thank you for bringing up Job. I was taught somewhere along the line to deny what I was feeling—when I was sick, it actually took me years to truly acknowledge that I had a problem; that normal people didn’t feel the way I did.
God blessed Job abundantly even after Job complained because ultimately he said “though he slay me yet will I trust him.” This is in sharp contrast to David who had it all and still didn’t trust God enough to stay pure. God still loved David but David paid dearly for his sins.
I don’t know yet how to strike a balance with complaints sometimes though.
Job prods and stings the conscience of the pious. If they romanticize human suffering, they are empty idealists and they cannot speak to real men. When God finally speaks to Job, he does not deny that Job’s life is a living hell.
Job wasn’t kvetching though, was he? He was seeking answers. His cries represent a monumental turning point in human understanding of God.