Dealing With Degenerative Diseases: How Believers Can Find Comfort In Christ
Often when life seems to be going smoothly, we'll say, “God is good.” Yet we aren't always so quick to remember this truth when a degenerative disease becomes part of our reality. One key in coping with a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's, dementia, or Parkinson's, is to remember that God is good. No matter our circumstances, God's character does not change. The God of the Bible is the God who is today. His promises still hold true. Our circumstances do not change Him or His purposes for us. God is actively working “all things” together in His grand plan (Romans 8:28). For some people, one of those “all things” is a degenerative disease. God does not say that all things are good. But He does work for the good in all things; God is a redeemer.
God Is At Work
The Bible also tells us that “we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). A disease does not change this truth. God still has a purpose for those suffering with degenerative diseases. When we remember that God is in control, that He is good, and that He is for our good, we can more easily accept the reality of a degenerative disease. We can trust that He is at work, even if it feels like we have been abandoned. Keeping the truth of God's character and His faithfulness toward His own is vitally important for anyone affected by a degenerative disease. This allows us to keep a right perspective and maintain hope. A few other things should be considered as well.
Share Your Burden
Being diagnosed with a degenerative disease is a very difficult time. Many sufferers are unaware of their disease for years, and once symptoms start becoming prevalent, diagnosis may still take months or years. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis can be somewhat of a relief, but it can also feel like a life sentence. Degenerative diseases are incurable and progress with time. Medically speaking, there is no getting better. This is where it is crucial to remind yourself of who God is. This disease is not a surprise to Him. He has known all along and has made provision for you. Staying grounded in God's Word, particularly His promises, is very helpful in coping. Keep praying. Call out to God and “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). It is okay to be real with God about your emotions, while also remembering the truth of who He is. The Psalms are an excellent example of this type of prayer. It is also important to stay connected with Christian community. Romans 12:15 tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” It is important to share your burden with the body of Christ so they can provide support.
The biblical example of the Sabbath comes to mind. Rest and recreation are important even in the planning stages. In planning, consider not only the long-term (financial provision, power of attorney, health directives, etc.) but the short-term (a care plan for your current daily needs).
Degenerative diseases often involve symptoms that make the activities of daily living more difficult. We can be grateful to God for what we have rather than become discouraged by what we no longer have. In many ways, this is putting Philippians 4:8 into action.
Often, the best approach for responding to a degenerative disease is to assemble a care team. For Christians, this can be an excellent opportunity to witness. People will be watching how you cope with the disease. Allowing the light of Christ's joy to shine through and demonstrating love to the care team can be an incredible testimony to who God is.
Aside from these more practical matters, it is imperative that those with degenerative diseases do not lose sight of who God is and of who they are. A degenerative disease can feel consuming. It is easy to begin to identify as the disease rather than as a person. This is part of the reason it is important to maintain social connections, especially with fellow believers. Christian fellowship is important for the whole body of Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Encouragement For Caregivers
A quick word for the family members of those with degenerative diseases. As you know, this disease affects you, too. Just as it is important for the person with the disease to maintain hope and actively engage in life, so, too, is it important for families. Many family members are involved in daily caregiving. This can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Caregivers need to take care of themselves as well. Allow yourself emotions like anger and guilt and fear, but also happiness and excitement and peace. Life is not this disease.
The reality of degenerative diseases makes us long for our heavenly home. Degenerative diseases can also remind us of the great hope we have in Christ. When a degenerative disease becomes part of our personal reality, we can be angry and despair, or we can be reminded of what is truly important, press into the truth that we serve a God who loves us, and make the most of every opportunity we've been given because we realize in a unique way that our time is limited. Enjoy the gifts He has given, rejoice in today, and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He is faithful to sustain you and to complete His good work in you (Philippians 1:6).