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 CHAPTER TEN

When a Family Member Is Sick

When a Family Member Is Sick

1, 2. How did Satan use tragedy and sickness to try to break Job’s integrity?

THE man Job must surely be counted among those who enjoyed a happy family life. The Bible calls him “the greatest of all the Orientals.” He had seven sons and three daughters, ten children in all. He also had the means to provide well for his family. Most important, he took the lead in spiritual activities and was concerned about his children’s standing before Jehovah. All of this resulted in close and happy family ties.​—Job 1:1-5.

2 Job’s situation did not escape the attention of Satan, Jehovah God’s archenemy. Satan, who is constantly looking for ways to break the integrity of God’s servants, attacked Job by destroying his happy family. Then, he “struck Job with a malignant boil from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” Thus Satan hoped to use tragedy and sickness to break Job’s integrity.​—Job 2:6, 7.

3. What were the symptoms of Job’s illness?

3 The Bible does not give the medical designation of Job’s affliction. It does, though, tell us the symptoms. His flesh was covered with maggots, and his skin formed crusts and rotted away. Job’s breath was loathsome, and his body was foul smelling. He was racked with pain. (Job 7:5; 19:17; 30:17, 30) In agony Job sat among the ashes and scraped himself  with a piece of broken earthenware. (Job 2:8) Truly a pitiable sight!

4. What experience does every family have from time to time?

4 How would you react if you were afflicted with such a serious disease? Today, Satan does not strike God’s servants with sickness as he did Job. Still, in view of human imperfection, the stresses of daily life, and the deteriorating environment we live in, it is only to be expected that from time to time, family members will get sick. Despite the preventive measures that we might take, all of us are susceptible to illness, although few will suffer to the extent that Job did. When sickness invades our household, it can truly be a challenge. Let us therefore see how the Bible helps us to cope with this ever-present enemy of mankind.​—Ecclesiastes 9:11; 2 Timothy 3:16.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?

5. How do family members usually react in cases of temporary sickness?

5 Disruption of the normal routine of life, no matter what the cause, is always difficult, and this is especially true if the disruption is caused by prolonged sickness. Even a short-term illness calls for adjustments, concessions, and sacrifices. Healthy family members may have to keep quiet to allow the sick one to get rest. They may have to forgo certain activities. Still, in most families even young children feel compassion for a sick sibling or parent, although they may occasionally have to be reminded to be thoughtful. (Colossians 3:12) In the case of temporary sickness, the family is usually ready to do what is needed. Besides, each family member would hope for similar consideration if he or she  were to get sick.​—Matthew 7:12.

6. What reactions are sometimes seen if a family member is struck with a serious, lasting sickness?

6 What, though, if the illness is very serious and the disruptions are drastic and prolonged? For example, what if someone in the family is paralyzed by a stroke, disabled by Alzheimer’s disease, or debilitated by some other illness? Or what if a member of the family is afflicted with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia? A common initial reaction is pity​—sadness that a loved one is suffering so much. However, pity may be followed by other reactions. As family members find themselves very much affected and their freedoms limited by the sickness of one person, they may come to feel resentment. They may wonder: “Why does this have to happen to me?”

7. How did Job’s wife react to his sickness, and what did she evidently forget?

7 Something similar seems to have gone through the mind of Job’s wife. Remember, she had already experienced the loss of her children. As those tragic events unfolded, she no doubt felt progressively more distraught. Finally, as she saw her once active and vigorous husband afflicted with a painful,  loathsome disease, she appears to have lost sight of the vital factor that overshadowed all the tragedies​—the relationship that she and her husband had with God. The Bible says: “Finally [Job’s] wife said to him: ‘Are you yet holding fast your integrity? Curse God and die!’”​—Job 2:9.

8. When a family member is very sick, what scripture will help other family members to keep a proper viewpoint?

8 Many feel frustrated, even angry, when their life is radically changed by someone else’s sickness. Still, a Christian who reasons on the situation should realize eventually that this affords him an opportunity to demonstrate the genuineness of his love. True love “is long-suffering and kind . . . [and] does not look for its own interests . . . It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Rather than allow negative feelings to dominate, therefore, it is essential that we do our best to get them under control.​—Proverbs 3:21.

9. What assurances can help a family spiritually and emotionally when a member is seriously ill?

9 What can be done to safeguard the spiritual and emotional welfare of a family when one of its members is seriously ill? Of course, each illness calls for its own particular care and treatment, and it would not be proper in this publication to recommend any medical or home-care procedures. Nonetheless, in a spiritual sense, Jehovah “is raising up all who are bowed down.” (Psalm 145:14) King David wrote: “Happy is anyone acting with consideration toward the lowly one; in the day of calamity Jehovah will provide escape for him. Jehovah himself will guard him and preserve him alive. . . . Jehovah himself  will sustain him upon a divan of illness.” (Psalm 41:1-3) Jehovah preserves his servants alive spiritually, even when they are tried emotionally beyond their own limits. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Many family members facing serious sickness in their household have echoed the words of the psalmist: “I have been afflicted to a great extent. O Jehovah, preserve me alive according to your word.”​—Psalm 119:107.

A HEALING SPIRIT

10, 11. (a) What is vital if a family is to cope successfully with sickness? (b) How did one woman cope with the sickness of her husband?

10 “The spirit of a man can put up with his malady,” says a Bible proverb, “but as for a stricken spirit, who can bear it?” (Proverbs 18:14) Trauma can afflict the spirit of a family as well as “the spirit of a man.” Yet, “a calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism.” (Proverbs 14:30) Whether a family successfully copes with serious illness or not depends to a large extent on the attitude, or spirit, of its members.​—Compare Proverbs 17:22.

11 One Christian woman had to endure seeing her husband impaired by a stroke only six years after they were married. “My husband’s speech was badly affected, and it became almost impossible to converse with him,” she recalled. “The mental strain of trying to understand what he was struggling to say was very great.” Imagine, too, the agony and frustration that the husband must have experienced. What did the couple do? Even though they lived a long way from the Christian congregation, the sister did her best to stay spiritually strong by keeping up-to-date with all the latest organizational information  as well as with the continual supply of spiritual food in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. This gave her the spiritual strength to care for her dear husband until his death four years later.

12. As seen in the case of Job, what contribution does the sick one sometimes make?

12 In Job’s case it was he, the one afflicted, who remained strong. “Shall we accept merely what is good from the true God and not accept also what is bad?” he asked his wife. (Job 2:10) No wonder the disciple James later cited Job as an outstanding example of patience and forbearance! At James 5:11 we read: “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.” Similarly today, in many cases the courageous attitude of the sick family member has helped others in the household to maintain a positive outlook.

13. What comparison should not be made by a family experiencing serious sickness?

13 Most who have had to deal with sickness in the family agree that initially it is not unusual for family members to have a difficult time facing the facts. They also point out that the way in which one comes to view the situation is extremely important. Changes and adjustments in the household routine may be difficult at the outset. But if a person really makes the effort, he can adapt to a new situation. In doing so, it is important that we not compare our circumstances with those of others who do not have sickness in the family, thinking that their life is easier and that ‘it is just not fair!’ Actually, no one really knows what burdens others have to bear. All Christians find comfort in Jesus’ words: “Come to me,  all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.”​—Matthew 11:28.

SETTING PRIORITIES

14. How can proper priorities be set?

14 In the face of serious sickness, a family would do well to remember the inspired words: “In the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” (Proverbs 15:22) Could family members come together and discuss the situation caused by the sickness? It would certainly be appropriate to do so prayerfully and to turn to God’s Word for guidance. (Psalm 25:4) What should be considered in such a discussion? Well, there are medical, financial, and family decisions to be made. Who will provide the primary care? How can the family cooperate to support that care? How will the arrangements made affect each member of the family? How will the spiritual and other needs of the primary caregiver be looked after?

15. What support does Jehovah provide for families experiencing serious sickness?

15 Praying earnestly for Jehovah’s direction, meditating on his Word, and courageously following the way indicated by the Bible often result in blessings beyond our expectations. The disease of an ailing family member may not always go into remission. But leaning on Jehovah always leads to the best outcome in any situation. (Psalm 55:22) The psalmist wrote: “Your own loving-kindness, O Jehovah, kept sustaining me. When my disquieting thoughts became many inside of me, your own consolations began to fondle my soul.”​—Psalm 94:18, 19; see also Psalm 63:6-8.

 HELPING THE CHILDREN

When the family works together, problems can be handled

16, 17. What points can be made when discussing with young children the sickness of a sibling?

16 Serious sickness can cause problems for children in the family. It is important that parents help the children to understand the needs that have arisen and what they may do to help. If the one who has become ill is a child, the siblings must be helped to understand that the extra attention and care the sick one is receiving does not mean that the other children are loved any less. Rather than allow resentment or rivalry to develop, parents can help the other children to form a closer bond with one another and have genuine affection as they cooperate in handling the situation caused by the sickness.

17 Young children will usually respond more readily if parents appeal to their feelings rather than to lengthy or complicated explanations about medical conditions. So they could be given some idea of what the sick family member is going through. If the healthy children see how the illness prevents the sick one from doing many of the things that they themselves take for granted, they are likely to have more “brotherly affection” and to be “tenderly compassionate.”​—1 Peter 3:8.

18. How can older children be helped to understand the problems caused by sickness, and how might this be of benefit to them?

18 Older children should be helped to realize that a difficult situation exists and it requires sacrifices on the part of everyone in the family. With doctors’ fees and medical bills to pay, it may not be possible for parents to provide for the other children  as they would like to. Will the children resent this and feel that they are being deprived? Or will they understand the situation and be willing to make the needed sacrifices? Much depends on the way the matter is discussed and the spirit that is engendered in the family. Indeed, in many families the sickness of a family member has helped in training children to follow Paul’s counsel: “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”​—Philippians 2:3, 4.

HOW TO VIEW MEDICAL TREATMENT

19, 20. (a) What responsibilities do family heads shoulder when a family member is sick? (b) Although not a medical textbook, in what way does the Bible provide guidance in handling sickness?

19 Balanced Christians do not object to medical treatment as long as it does not go against God’s law. When a member of their family becomes ill, they are eager to seek help to relieve the suffering of the afflicted one. Still, there may be conflicting professional opinions that must be weighed. Additionally, in recent years new diseases and disorders have been cropping up, and for many of these, there is no generally accepted method of treatment. Even accurate diagnoses are sometimes difficult to obtain. What, then, should a Christian do?

20 Although one Bible writer was a physician and the apostle Paul offered helpful medical advice to his friend Timothy, the Scriptures are a moral and spiritual guide, not a medical textbook. (Colossians 4:14;  1 Timothy 5:23) Hence, in matters of medical treatment, Christian family heads have to make their own balanced decisions. Perhaps they may feel that they need to obtain more than one professional opinion. (Compare Proverbs 18:17.) They will certainly want the best available help for their sick family member, and most seek this among regular medical doctors. Some feel more comfortable with alternative health therapies. This too is a personal decision. Still, when handling health problems, Christians do not cease to let ‘God’s word be a lamp to their foot and a light to their roadway.’ (Psalm 119:105) They continue to follow the guidelines set out in the Bible. (Isaiah 55:8, 9) Thus, they shun diagnostic techniques that smack of spiritism, and  they avoid treatments that violate Bible principles.​—Psalm 36:9; Acts 15:28, 29; Revelation 21:8.

21, 22. How did one Asian woman reason on a Bible principle, and how did the decision she made prove right in her situation?

21 Consider the case of a young Asian woman. A little while after she began to learn about the Bible as a result of studying with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she gave birth prematurely to a baby girl who weighed only three and a quarter pounds [1,470 gm]. The woman was heartbroken when a doctor told her that the baby would be severely retarded and would never be able to walk. He advised her to surrender the baby to an institution. Her husband was uncertain about the matter. To whom could she turn?

22 She says: “I remember learning from the Bible that ‘sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.’” (Psalm 127:3) She decided to take this “inheritance” home and to care for her. Things were difficult at first, but with the help of Christian friends in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the woman was able to manage and to provide the child with the special support needed. Twelve years later, the child was going to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall and enjoying the company of the youngsters there. The mother comments: “I am so grateful that Bible principles moved me to do what is right. The Bible helped me to maintain a clear conscience before Jehovah God and not to have regrets that would have been with me for the rest of my life.”

23. What comfort does the Bible give for the sick and for those who care for them?

23 Sickness will not be with us forever. The prophet  Isaiah pointed forward to the time when “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” (Isaiah 33:24) That promise will be fulfilled in the rapidly approaching new world. Until then, however, we have to live with sickness and death. Happily, God’s Word gives us guidance and help. The basic rules of conduct that the Bible provides are lasting, and they transcend the ever-changing opinions of imperfect humans. Hence, a wise person agrees with the psalmist who wrote: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise. . . . The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous. . . . In the keeping of them there is a large reward.”​—Psalm 19:7, 9, 11.