In the early years of Margaret’s illness, occasional flare-ups were more of an annoying nuisance, not an all-consuming trial. Her most challenging health days were typically during times of bad weather, so we adjusted our lives around the theme of “with the rain comes the pain.” And, since we lived in Arizona, these rain-pain combinations were quite spread out, which allowed us to live a fairly normal, active life.
Chronic illnesses, however, are seldom content to lie dormant. In our case, about a decade after her initial diagnosis, we experienced the development of persistent, non-weather-related symptoms. Sunny days morphed into days of pain. Even something as simple as removing a can of soup from the cupboard became problematic. Her autoimmune disease (called sarcoidosis) was on the offensive, and despite much prayer and numerous medical counter-offensives, her body steadily deteriorated.
On the relational side of things, the decline of her health transformed us from a “go to” outgoing couple to a pair of chronic disease captives, bound by the chains of disabling affliction. Where once our phone rang frequently with a multiplicity of invites and requests, within a short period of time we were beaten down with a deafening relational silence. We struggled with feelings of an acute loss of purpose—and felt the pain of loneliness by omission.
Can you relate? Chronic disease has an inescapable and oppressive companion called loneliness. It makes itself known through the combination of having few who understand what your world now looks like, coupled with your inability to consistently interact with others. So, is there anyone who truly gets what we are going through? Is it possible, even with a serious health condition, to know you are accepted, loved, and understood?
Margaret and I’s present reality is that she is 99% home-bound. The remaining 1% is only for special doctor’s appointments. At the time of this blog post, she has only been out of our home twice in the past ten months. Though not in hospice care, the magnitude of her disability makes it virtually impossible to leave the medical safety of our house. So, we are an easy couple to find. She is here all the time, and except for my hours at work, I am home quite a bit as well.
In preparation for writing this blog post, I asked Margaret, “Are you lonely?” Without hesitation, she answered, “No.” How is this possible? With all her symptoms and her land-locked reality, how is she truthfully able to say this?
Well, her answer is rooted in a precious biblical truth. You see, there is One who truly understands the loneliness of chronic sufferers. His name is Jesus. Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.”
Jesus is the Person who completely understands your world of medically-induced loneliness. He knows all about it. Read about his life as recorded in the Gospels. There you’ll find that throughout his lifetime he often dealt with being maligned, misunderstood and rejected. And, in his ultimate act of love on the cross, for the first time in Christ’s eternal existence, he experienced the rejection of God the Father. When he bore the penalty for our sins, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Knowing Jesus experienced this incomprehensible separation from the Father gives us our greatest comfort—for we know he can fully sympathize with our medically isolated lives.
The Lord wants to break the cycle of loneliness for those suffering with chronic health conditions. It begins with prayer. Set aside a time this week and talk to him about it. Tell him how lonely you feel. Tell him why. Tell him what you’re frustrated about. Share with him about all the people you feel have let you down. Then ask him to bring people your way, faithful friends who can provide for you the comfort and companionship the Lord desires.
We had few friends in Colorado when we moved here. As we settled into our new life in the Denver area, there were some painful lonely times. But during those early years here we learned that only the Lord is a “friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). And, as we learned to talk to him openly and honestly about our loneliness, in his time he brought to us compassionate, wonderful friends.
My primary encouragement this month would be to make Jesus your closest friend. Ask him to reveal to you how much he loves you and cares for you. Then, prayerfully, aim to connect with a local church in your area where Christ is proclaimed and folks demonstrate a loving care for each other. With God’s help, may you see, as we did, your loneliness displaced with a fresh expression of the Lord’s love for you.