Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15 HCSB)
Perhaps one of the most surprising things to me about having a chronic and debilitating disease is the reaction of others in my life. There were several phases that people went through.
- Moving On
In the early stages of my disease there was pain but the doctors were unable to find any cause for it. For about 9 months I went to 30 different doctors, in the hospital 3 times, had X-Ray, MRI, CT Scans and many different blood tests all of which showed nothing wrong. Doctors were suggesting to my family that the problems were psychological in nature but I knew that something was very wrong with me.
During this time, close family members repeatedly reached out to me to try an snap me out of this depression or whatever was causing this. I was advised to enter mental health treatment programs. My symptoms were met with skepticism, even my seizures were believed to be fake by some.
Strange as it may seem, some people close to me responded, eventually, with anger. The anger was subtle but definitely there. The pressure of someone close to you losing their health and life before your eyes over a period of months takes a toll.
This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society’s flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail.
I see this in scripture when I consider Job’s wife. We don’t know much about her but consider that Job’s losses were her losses as well. Children dead, wealth lost and finally Jobs health lost as well. She was angry and you can hear it in her words.
His wife said to him, “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” “You speak as a foolish woman speaks,” he told her. “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” Throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:9-10 HCSB)
She was advising Job to commit suicide. Either she believed that the act of cursing God would end his life or perhaps she was advising him to curse God and then kill himself. Either way, a self-initiated act would end his life, a suicide.
Job dealt with the anger by appealing to God’s sovereignty. He knew that everything that came to him, including the devastating losses was from God.
When the diagnosis finally came at first there was an outpouring of compassion. There were kind words, offers of help and queries about my condition and treatment options. We like to hear about stories of overcoming and I wanted to overcome this disease. I thought that I could beat it like people beat cancer but sadly there is no treatment for Dercums Disease. There is no cure. Just a long steady slide towards death.
The passion of compassion fades away quickly when things get hard. People return to their lives, and soon it’s out of sight, out of mind for those who do not have to be close to you.
The final stage is a forgetfulness that takes hold. People move on with life and when they don’t see you they forget about you. I’m not saying that they are bad people, I’m sure that if I were the healthy one I would have done the same thing. Every now and then they think “I wonder how Ron is doing.” I know this because sometimes people say this to me.
The truth is that across these 3 years since I’ve been diagnosed there have been very few people who have taken the time to stop by and visit me at my home. Even my church where I was a very active member for 15 years seemed to have abandoned me. They are welcoming if I can make it there or if I am well enough to help with something but otherwise I was completely ignored by them.
Weep with those who weep
On the surface, this command of Romans 12;15 seems like a simple thing to do but it really isn’t when the weeping doesn’t stop. When there are no answers, no cure and no optimistic tomorrow, weeping takes a toll.
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: … showing mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8 HCSB)
There is a spiritual gift of mercy. It is a God given ability to show compassion beyond the initial impulse of charity that all of us feel. I have one friend who I believe has this gift. Across the years he is the one person who has stuck by me whether I was near or far. He calls me every few days to see how I’m doing as he is prompted by the Spirit. When I don’t show up for Bible study because of pain he is the one who will follow up and check on me.
If you had asked me prior to my sickness if I thought we had a loving church I would have said yes. They are loving, if you show up. They are engaging, if you are engaged. But if you don’t show up, you are quickly off the radar.
Ministering to the sick is not an easy thing. Our compassion wears thin, especially if we think the person deserves what they are getting. When healing isn’t coming we shy away from the reminder of our frailty. Perhaps this is why as a teenager we always hated the trip to the nursing home.
Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10 HCSB)
We used to sing a song “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.” Some churches call each other Brother or Sister. In the first century the choice to become a Christian meant for some that their biological family would cut them off. They needed a new family. Today many people live far from family, or perhaps their family is broken. They too need a new family. When your family member is sick you don’t forget them. You don’t simply move on, you go to them, you care for them, you weep with them.