Have you ever observed your chronically ill child during a conversation focused on goal setting? I have. It is interesting to see my now college aged child’s subtle reactions as others attempt to encourage her to set short and long-term life goals which are often centered around education. Many times, the other person is not fully aware of the day to day challenges my daughter faces. You may watch also as your child politely smiles and receives the well-wisher’s encouragement, but you know your child well enough to know he or she is holding back an honest response, one that yearns to break down and cry out, “if only you knew how this subject is so difficult for me and yet so easy for you!” Perhaps this stems from years of coping where a person erects walls with others, walls that don’t allow people to truly see into a chronically ill life, walls that prevent others from hurting the heart, if only unintentionally because they have not walked the same road and, as a result, see life differently.
The subject of goal setting may be a reminder to a chronically ill person that in some ways, he or she has not progressed at the same rate as siblings or peers. It’s the stark reality that life can feel like a turtle’s pace with health challenges. He or she may look inward and not see any progress at all as if a life has been frozen in time.
This is where the love of a parent intercedes. We are able to remind our sons and daughters that comparing always sets us up for failure. There is always going to be someone more beautiful, more affluent, more educated. Chronically ill or not, our focus must be on God and nothing else. It is true that education can open doors of opportunity, but I have shared with my daughter that much of what I deem successful in my life has little to do with my degree. It has everything to do with how God used the mess of my past so that I could be used for His purposes to walk beside someone who suddenly found himself on the same road that I have walked. As parents, we can encourage our child with an outside view of him or herself. We can share with them how we have seen progress. Perhaps your child has moved from a place of not being able to care for self at all to a place where she can manage medications and appointments, take a class, wash and fold her own laundry, help with dinner, exercise, or even work part time. This might not be the final resting place. The harsh reality of chronic illness is that one never knows where the plateau is; am I at the place where this is as good as it gets? However, it’s my faith in God that stirs my soul to believe He is able of far greater things than I could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20). I have to believe that God has prepared my daughter for an amazing task that only she can fulfill, just as I believe for each one of my children. In addition, as adults we know that progress is made over a lifetime which is why it is important to continue to set both short and long-term goals. Goals don't have to be all education or work related. They can be personal spiritual, emotional, or relational goals.
When people attempt to encourage my child to dream big, I must remind her that they mean well. In their hearts, they believe she can accomplish anything she desires. We cannot expect them to understand the heart and mind of the chronically ill if we do not let them into our world where they can learn that their goal may be a four-year degree, but the goal of a chronically ill person may be to take one class a semester or simply to get out of bed that day. We must teach our children to be confident in who they are, to understand the value that God has given them, so that they can sift through well wishes of others and not be left feeling like they are falling short.
To be vulnerable with others may mean we get hurt along the way. Even those who love us will hurt us. I would rather live my life with that possible risk than to live inside massive walls where I am safe yet alone. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” It is good to set goals, but we must remind ourselves that it is God who holds the plans.