Tag Archives: Johnny Trail

Loving And Serving Chronically Ill People — Johnny O. Trail

As she sat in the oncology waiting room, she spied a nurse that greeted her with a smile and escorted her husband back to the area where he would shortly receive Benadryl and his chemotherapy treatment. As the nurse came by to give the wife a status update, the wife motioned for the nurse to sit down. Tears welled up in the wife’s eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she said, “I do not understand why he is so short and rude with me. I do everything in my power to help him. I take him to all the appointments, care for him in our home, and he seems so bitter and unappreciative of me.” This same nurse would later tell a therapist that this was not uncommon among family members of chronically ill patients.

Interaction with people who are suffering may be difficult. Perhaps one has a spouse or family member who is dealing with a debilitating, painful illness on a continual basis. Maybe the preceding vignette is all too familiar to you and the situation that you face on a regular basis. There are some things that we need to remember about ministering to those who are chronically ill.

First, our illnesses tend to heighten mundane or otherwise tense situations. That is, when a person feels bad, they can be very short with people whom they might not have mistreated in the past. Sometimes a person’s pain is so intense that they cannot cope with the most trivial of life’s problems. Pain oftentimes is coupled with the bitterness that comes from being unable to function as one once had in times past. Suffice it to say, there are people who suffer so badly that even rest brings no solace or relief.

One notes from scripture that Job was in so much pain that he could not lay down and rest. As a matter of fact, he preferred death over rest. He said, “When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life” (Job 7:13-15). There are people who hurt so badly that they cannot sleep.

In some situations, we must realize that it is the “illness talking” and not the person. Certain diseases—especially neurological ones—can cause a person to say and do things that they might not ever do if they were in their right mind. Perhaps some reading this treatise have heard members of their family beg for death or wish to have never been born. Job did these very same things. He said, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months” (Job 3:3-6). Job was in so much mental and physical pain that he wished he had never been born. We should not be terribly surprised when a suffering person says something out of character.

Loving a person can mean living sacrificially for their welfare—even when you feel mistreated. Jesus died for the sins of the world. He even died for those who gleefully stood before His cross and ridiculed His precious name (Lk. 22:32-39). Our soul’s salvation is not dependent upon how we are treated by others. However, how we treat others will impact our eternal destination.

Furthermore, one who is chronically ill is intimately aware of their condition. That is, they do not need people explaining how they feel when others truly have an incomplete understanding. The patriarch Job was the only one who was qualified to explain his pain and suffering. He said, “When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? and I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day. My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope” (Job 7:4-6).

If the chronically ill person is a spouse, you have an oath-bound responsibility to care for that individual. Certain marriage vows have the phrase “in sickness and health” in their context. A vow is something which God takes seriously, and married people should do the same (Eccl. 5:4-5). It is sad and tragic when a spouse forsakes a mate at their greatest time of physical need.

Several years ago, Pat Robertson made the comment that it would be okay for a man to divorce his wife as she struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and subsequently start dating again with a view towards remarriage. Such comments are heartless and devoid of true compassion. In reality, we are bound to our spouses until death (Rom. 7:2-3).

If the chronically ill person needs care in the context of marriage, traditional roles might need to be changed. That is, the one who is well might need to take on more of the domestic responsibilities. There might be some limitations to this if the well spouse is the primary source of income, but it does not hurt a husband to wash clothes, sweep the floor and wash dishes for a chronically ill spouse. An appeal to reason might be necessary in this context.

Moreover, it would be absurd to expect one who deals with chronic illness to function in the exact same way before developing their disease. We should not be so rigid in our views of domestic responsibilities, especially in consideration of chronic illness. We need to be willing servants in such situations (Phil. 2:5-8).

Finally, I would encourage those dealing with chronically ill individuals to be patient. Please understand that their pain causes them to be short and even rude with people at times. In the vast majority of cases, they would not normally act that way. Solomon wrote, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Eccl. 7:8). Paul wrote, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thess. 5:14).

To the one who is chronically ill, as much as it is possible try to be patient and kind toward those who attempt to help you. Those trying to help will not always understand the pain you are enduring. They will make mistakes in your care and say the wrong thing at times. Remember Ephesians 4:31-32.

Johnny is a marriage & family therapist in Ashland City, TN.


Some Observations On Church Attendance — Johnny O. Trail

What keeps you away from the assembly of the saints?  I honestly believe that there are potentially valid reasons for one to miss church.  We should all be thankful for emergency responders, hospital workers, and others who provide vital services during Sunday assembly.  No person would want to arrive at the emergency room and see a “closed” sign hanging up on the door.  By the same token, we want someone to answer the phone when we dial 911 regarding a life or death situation that impacts us in some fashion.  Thus, there are people who sacrifice their family time and time at church to keep our nation safely running.  We are thankful for their service and sacrifice.  Moreover, there are people who are “providentially” hindered.  I would imagine that most members of the churches of Christ have heard these words uttered in a prayer.  Providentially is defined as “relating to or believed to be determined by providence.”

Over several years of preaching, I have noted that those who are hindered by various health and mental issues are the ones who want to be at church the most.  Still, there are people who do not attend church because they are simply too sick to be in the congregation.  I personally know of people who suffer with fibromyalgia and various other chronic diseases.  By experience, I know that those suffering with chronic problems would much rather be in church than at home suffering in pain.  I am of the opinion that God understands a person’s circumstances when they are hindered by health related issues.

We have noted that there are valid reasons why a person might not be able to come to church, but what about the other reasons that might be considered?  Can a person choose to be absent from the assembly and sin by their choice?  I firmly believe so.

Church attendance is up to the individual but is not optional in nature.  That having been said, it is hard to judge the motivations behind one’s decision not to attend. Some might believe that it is bothersome to spend a few hours a week in the assembly.  Under the Old Testament law, certain worshippers expressed the same sort of attitude.  This is meted out in the minor prophet Malachi:  “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord.  But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen” (Mal. 1:13-14).

In all honesty, there is work involved with coming to church.  I am always reminded of my wife, Jada, when we see young mothers struggling with children in the assembly.  Since I was always preaching or teaching a class, she had no help in the pew with children who were small enough to be in diapers.  I remarked to her and young parents in our congregations, “It is like moving a small army!”  Still, these godly parents make every effort to get those little ones into the assembly.  I remember asking Jada one Sunday after the services, “How was my sermon?”  She responded, “What little I was able to hear of it was fine.  Your son wiggled on me the entire time.”  In light of these things, one might ask, “So why go?”

Suffice it to say, she went to demonstrate the importance of being in worship and in the presence of like-minded saints.  All of my sons have been baptized, and they actively participate in the worship of the church.  Before they were old enough to understand what was happening, they would pass around our drink coasters and pretend that they were passing around the trays for the Lord’s Supper.  We have a photograph of our middle son in a diaper, standing behind a potato box, holding my Bible, and delivering a “sermon” for all to hear.  This was because he had parents who cared enough to bring him to church.  More specifically in our case, he and his brothers had a godly mother who was willing to do whatever it took to get them to church.

If you are a husband who can sit in the pew with your family, please help your wife.  If you are a mature member of the body, encourage and offer to help families with small children. Seek to encourage them as they struggle with attendance and rambunctious children. We want to continually pray for our young families as they struggle with schedules and bringing their children up on the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6.4).

Still, there are some who see church attendance as a “weariness” because they had rather be doing other things.  Some families have chosen recreational activities over being in the assembly with the saints.  That having been said, I personally know of families who attend early services before sporting events so that they can demonstrate the importance of church assembly to their children.  Still, there are families who have sacrificed their souls and families to the god of sports and entertainment.  We demonstrate our priorities by the choices we make.  If you fail to make Christ and being in the assembly a priority, so will your family members.

At this point one might quote Hebrews 10.25:  “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”  This passage refers to continually and purposefully being absent from the assembly, and it would include, in my estimation, times other than Sundays. Contextually, it is written to Christians who are discouraged because of various persecutions they were facing.  In part, we attend to church to help us remain faithful (Rev. 2.10) and encourage good works (Heb. 10.24).

Several years ago, I was in an assembly where a brother led the following portion of a prayer.  “Heavenly Father, please punish those who are absent from church simply because they have chosen not to be here…”  I wonder how many of our brethren would tolerate such a prayer?  I believe that it is scriptural because of the following passage:  “For the Lord disciples the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8).  I sincerely believe that this prayer was uttered in loving concern for the brethren.  We are concerned when we do not see YOU in church.

Johnny preaches for the Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ in Ashland City, TN.  He is a practicing marriage and family therapist.  He is married to Jada and they have three sons, Matthew, Nathan and Noah.