rebelling against low expectations

When You Love Someone With a Chronic Illness


When someone we love receives a chronic illness diagnosis, it is easy to feel helpless.

It doesn’t matter if they are our younger brother, our mother, or our best friend. We can still feel like we are too young to help them. For most of us chronic illness is huge and scary and unknown. What can we possibly do?

Yet you don’t have to be a certain age to love someone. Love is about relationships. Being young is not a limitation, but it does bring with it a unique set of problems and joys.

We have fewer resources at our disposal.

Perhaps we’re under eighteen and can’t drive. We might not have an independent income, or we might have to be at school five days a week. This not only restricts the amount of time we can spend with our ill family member or friend, but it also means we cannot offer to take them to appointments or do the grocery shopping.

We are not as used to the world.

I’m not saying we are immature, but we have had less experience with doctors, hospitals, health care and the way society works. We are also less adept at understanding relationships, our own emotions, and even ourselves. I think it’s important to admit this. We may not have had to deal with illness on this scale before, and so it is a new thing for us. This can limit our ability to offer help, and it definitely means that other people do not take our responses or offers of help as seriously.

Even so, we can do much.

We can do small big things

We can be there for someone, even if that doesn’t mean being physically present. Love is not about cooked meals or lifts to the hospital. We might be tempted to do those things out of pride or a sense of duty, and so in one way it is a blessing that we cannot.

Instead, we have the unique opportunity to learn what love looks like in their absence. Let us understand real love, and real humility.

The day will come when we can express our care in grand actions, but right now we have the chance to embrace smaller ones. Let’s not fall into the trap of idolising other forms of love. Cleaning our room is not a lesser sacrifice than arranging a car service or dropping off flowers, it is simply different.

We can be there when others are not

We are in a valuable position. However we may look at it, the hours we physically spend at school are normally less than the hours most adults work. This can mean we are present when others are not. It might mean we see our chronically ill family member in all situations. This can be heartbreaking and difficult, but it can also be precious.

Time together forms and deepens relationships. Who knows what may come of these relationships in the future? It won’t always be our privilege to simply be there for someone else, so let’s appreciate it while it lasts and not wish our life away.

God can do what we can’t

God could have waited until we were an adult to send the diagnosis into our family or friendship circle. He could have made sure we were older and more ‘capable’. But He did not.

Instead He has placed you and me here, in this time, at this age, in our families and amongst our friends, for a reason and a purpose.

We might not know what that is. We might not feel like we’re being much help. But that’s okay, because God will use us. All He calls us to do is to love others and commit our ways to Him. That is enough.

God can turn all things for good. We might look at our peers in this awful time and think that life is inherently unfair. Why should we have this invisible burden when they do not?

I don’t know. But this I do: we serve a good God. And He works, and sometimes we don’t find out why certain things happened until twenty or thirty years down the track. Sometimes we never discover the answer to ‘why’ – but we hold onto the truth that there is one.

Never too young

When tragedy strikes someone else, it’s easy to feel overlooked or useless. We might even feel like a burden. But take heart, friends. I do not believe this is the case! Our position and our actions are important. We must not fall into the trap of self-pity, because God does not look down on us.

Rather, let us love as only we can.


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About the author


has two close family members who struggle with chronic illness, and there’s not much she can do except watch. And blog. She writes a lot about what it means to support them while clinging onto God. In between she runs along the river near her house, works at a hospital, writes fiction and day dreams far too much. She prays that what she writes would encourage other people in similar situations.


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  • This is somewhat unrelated but I think that we CAN immediately write people off as “too young” to love someone. But back on topic (weeee), I think that you have a very great and insightful article. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness 3 years ago and now I know how my family can feel sometimes.

    • Thank you Joye! Yes, that’s very true – it’s so tempting to put an age restriction on love!
      I appreciate your feedback – this is a topic I am very passionate about, but have too few opportunities to write on 🙂

  • My girlfriend has Cystic Fibrosis, and often it is hard for me to grasp that, statistically speaking, she’s already lived half her life, and we’re not even out of high school yet. I often feel so helpless because, I want to find a cure. I want to do something, and it feels like I can’t. Not only because I’m too young (although that doesn’t help), but also because this has stumped some of the smartest minds in history, and I’m just a random guy from the middle of nowhere, Ga. I am trying to help in any way I can, but sometimes I just want to sit and cry. I believe GOD does everything for a reason, but it’s beginning to get too hard to see his reason.

    • Oh mcstache, I’m so sorry. I know what it’s like (not exactly, but a little bit) – it’s so awful feeling helpless. That’s the reason I started my blog actually… so that we would not be alone in our helplessness. I’ve come to believe that loving truly is enough… because otherwise God would have given us the means (or the brains) for more. I will pray for you both now.

  • Wow great article, Emily. I love this perspective – because sometimes having to watch someone you love go through a chronic illness can be worse than you going through it yourself. There’s so many times where you want to help but all you can do is just be there and love. Thank you for sharing girl, and I will be praying for you 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement Ashley – I appreciate it and the prayers very much!
      “having to watch someone you love go through a chronic illness can be worse than you going through it yourself” – this so often seems very true, and in fact spent this morning writing a (yet to be published) blog post on that! Perfect (God’s) timing 🙂

  • All of those points are so true! As someone with chronic illness myself, those things from people who are there when others aren’t, or the small things… those are some of the things that encourage me the most and make me feel loved. Great article!

By Emily
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →