As we know, chronic illness goes on and on and on.
There is no end, no use-by date.
This is a problem, because we are only human. We find it difficult to stretch out our emotions. A state of perpetual excitement, for example, is extremely difficult to maintain.
So is a state of sympathy.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BEGIN TO RUN OUT OF SYMPATHY?
What happens when the tragedy has not passed (and may not pass) and our sympathetic feelings, our desire to be involved, and our sadness have all come to an end?
Do we simply give up?
Do we stop watching?
First of all, let us ask ourselves a probing question:
WHY IS RUNNING OUT OF SYMPATHY A PROBLEM?
Why is it a problem that we no longer feel interested in our loved one’s suffering? And why is it an issue that we don’t wince as they wince any longer?
Is it really that wrong?
I suspect that we want to instinctively answer, “yes.”
Yes, there is something wrong when we don’t care about suffering anymore.
That is the right answer.
But it’s also wrong.
EVERYTHING BECOMES NORMAL
We’re limited human beings.
It is physically impossible to maintain a state of emotion (whatever it is) indefinitely. In one sense, it is natural that we don’t feel very sympathetic any longer.
We adapt to every situation. It might take years, but everything — including chronic illness — becomes normal. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to cope.
Resilience is a blessing.
RUNNING OUT OF SYMPATHY – WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Sympathy is only a feeling, and a transient one at that, so we should be careful with how much importance we place on it. After all, when we lose our sympathy, what has changed?
We still have the ability to love and to Watch — it is only our motivation that is lacking. It is not that we suddenly ‘can’t,’ we just no longer particularly ‘want’ to.
And this is a problem.
A LACK OF MOTIVATION
There is such a thing as emotional burnout of course, but I’m not talking about that. I am talking about the more hum-drum loss of sympathy, the loss of caring.
This is about a lack of motivation to love stemming from that fact that our loved one’s suffering no longer impacts our lives like it did at first.
It is about becoming tired and apathetic to suffering because we see it every day and nothing ever changes. We are simply running out of sympathy.
“I did not understand, but I knew that it would not pass. And I cried for those things that had happened in the night and would not pass. I cried for T.J. For T.J. and the land.” Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
WHAT CAN WE DO?
1. CONTINUE EVEN WHEN SYMPATHY RUNS OUT
On a base level, we can continue to love.
We can keep going through the motions, even in the absence of accompanying feeling. We are not to give up on ever feeling sympathy again, but we are to continue living and loving without it.
To love when we don’t feel like it still blesses our loved ones.
This is true first, on a physical level, and second, because we are demonstrating that we think they are worth the struggle.
2. WHEN SYMPATHY VANISHES – CULTIVATE
In the absence of feeling, we are given a chance to cultivate purer emotions.
When sympathy vanishes, Watching becomes a test. Are we doing it for ourselves, or for our loved one? If we are only doing it for ourselves, to make us feel good or content with life, then we will give up as soon as it no longer does that.
If we are truly loving our loved ones because they are valuable in our sight, then we will strive to continue, even when it’s boring or when it hurts.
3. RUNNING OUT OF SYMPATHY – CLOSE THE DISTANCE
Let us not let apathy drive us away. It’s easy to do. Yet, in this situation, we must do the opposite of our feelings.
Let us continue to enter deeply into the lives of our loved ones, to ask how they are and to listen to the answer. Drawing away from them during this time will only heighten our lack of emotion. In the same way, we need to continue to draw close to God.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8 NKJV
Let us continue to tell Him how we feel and seek nourishment for our souls — even if we feel we don’t need it.
4. RUNNING OUT OF SYMPATHY – CONFESS
Lastly, we need to remember this is only one period of time.
Life is full of flat plains as well as steep mountains.
There is a season for everything. Our apathy and tiredness will not last forever. In time, a crisis will push our loved one’s sickness to the forefront once more. That is the nature of life.
If it is possible for us to enjoy this respite, let us do so. Perhaps we can talk to our loved one about it. Are they feeling the same thing? Are they dry as well? They may be relieved by our admittance.
Most of all, let us confess our lack of feeling to God and pray for empathy.
*First published at calledtowatch.com. **Published with permission.
Emily J. Maurits
Chronic Joy® Contributing Writer
After working for several years in the public health sector, Emily is now studying theology. She believes we are all called to love suffering people, because that's what Jesus did. She is passionate about equipping and encouraging others to do just that, and founded www.calledtowatch.com for the family and friends of those with chronic illnesses. As well as uncovering God's presence in the chaos of life, she enjoys reading, running, and writing. Check out her memoir, Two Sisters & a Brain Tumour.
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