I have a friend who was recently stunned by bad news medically. A serious diagnosis that has no cure. I have tried to encourage and walk with her through a months-long process of getting to this point. The diagnosis is not even certain as it is one of those autoimmune things that defies diagnosis by mimicking so many other illnesses. So what can I offer her next?
That night as I was preparing for bed and praying for her I suddenly remembered when I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia many years ago. At that time there was much less known about Fibro and Bob and I were pretty much on our own to figure it out. I read everything I could. I tried to learn about this mystery illness. First, however, I had to cope with the weeks and months of getting back up on my feet again. We were a family of four with 2 young children and one husband working full time and often on call. I needed to function!
I hope to spend some time the next couple weeks blogging about what I discovered that helped me during those dark days. The night she shared the news with me when I got in bed to read on my iPad there came a flood of coping ideas. I typed with one finger until I thought I might need to get up and write at my desk!
One thing my friend had shared was about a neighbor couple who both got Covid after being exposed to extended family at Christmas. Neighbor woman is recovering. He was hospitalized. He finally was released from the hospital and two days later he died at home. When you have your own terrible news, the grief of others can put you in a tailspin. Where your heart would have been empathetic before, now their dark and dismal splashes over into your dark and dismal. Suddenly it can all be too much to take. From similar experiences, I learned to try to guard my heart.
Send a sympathy card, but be certain to keep your matters from flowing into the streams of others. Grief can come with illness. I will write on that another day.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV
Another struggle is when the “What if’s” and “If onlys” try to take over. Fretting and worry over the future and the past are like a lioness with her kill. You do not want to get in her way! Some call it “stinkin’ thinkin.” I experienced it with things like, “What if I cannot continue to raise my children?” “How can I be a good wife to Bob if I am weak and in bed all the time?” “What if pain takes over my life?” We are told to be alert and sober minded, aware of our thoughts.
The New Testament has advice on that. If you will do this it will save you from untold trouble.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV
Rather than swirl in a centrifuge of negative thoughts trying to push them down and forget them, I eventually found it helpful to list those thoughts. To examine them in the Light of Christ. It takes effort to become aware of your thoughts. Especially in this society that does not value self-examination. No one knows my thoughts except me and God. He is omniscient. “Nothing is hidden from Him with whom we have to do.”
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.Hebrews 4:13 NIV
Uncovering my negative thoughts takes much power from them. Learning how they make me feel is powerful, too. When I start getting ‘that way’ I now can often recognize where the discomfort is coming from and put a stop to it. I have to do the work. God enables me but does not accomplish it for me. I do not serve a fairy godmother who will whisk away every negative thing from me.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.Psalm 105:4 NIV
In the struggle after a shock knocks you down, that struggle to get your feet under yourself again, I cannot stress how important it is to turn and face the Lord. Determine to stay with Him, come what may. Hold His hand.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.Psalm 73:23 NIV
Guard your heart. Take your thoughts captive to Christ. Turn and face the Lord. Hold onto His hand. Does that seem like too much to do? The ideas can be put on a 3 x 5 card and practiced when you have nothing else pressing. Over time, with practice they are certain to keep you from getting worse mentally in the midst of bad news.