As with many of the posts, this was written in Fall ’14 by Sarah prior to her further down-spiral in health. She wrote it an attempt to educate the public on how to empathetically handle those who fight chronic illness and to provide comfort for those who face it themselves. -Michael (Sarah’s husband)
1. “Oh, I’ve had something like that before, you’ll be fine.” So many times, there can be shared symptoms with individuals fighting health crises. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, presuming the outcome will be the same. Even with people who have similar conditions I have, I try to be careful not to equate my health condition as the exact same as theirs. Within a single disease, there can be various levels of mobility and disability. Everybody’s body is different.
2. “What you have is an easy fix. All you have to do is___________.” When someone has striven to find health for a long time, giving them an easy solution answer feels insensitive. Have you gone to their many doctor appointments? Do you know their case history? Have you seen their health regimen throughout the months and even years? It’s tempting to give a “quick bullet recipe” to wellness, but it’s unfortunately not always so simple.
3. “You should/shouldn’t do ___________”. Most people are fine with suggestions. Have you ever thought to try ___________ to help your health? Suggestions are not lording over someone, telling them what they ought to do. It’s solely a compassionate mention on what could possibly help the person. The person still feels like they have the choice to either accept or deny the advice.
The individual hearing the converse knows the difference by how they feel. It’s essentially asserting authority over someone, telling them what they should/shouldn’t do. It comes in these words “you have to,” “you shouldn’t do,” “you need to,” and “you ought to.” In this scenario, the person feels blocked into a corner because they don’t feel like they have a free will to say “no.” No one likes that feeling, even outside of health related matters. The book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend superbly covers this topic.
4. “You just don’t have enough faith.”I love the quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada’s response to this one in her book, A Place of Healing. She recounts an incident where a very well intentioned man discovered which church she attended with the intent purpose of tracking her down to enlighten her about how she can be healed from her crippled state.
When he tracked her down in the parking lot, he noted how the paralyzed individual in the Bible was able to walk through faith, thus, she should just ‘get more faith’ so she can walk. She responded with grace and truth, asking him to turn in his Bible to the passage he mentioned. He complied. She then pointed out that the paralyzed person was not in fact healed through the paralyzed individual’s own personal faith, but rather the faith of those surrounding the cripple. She then politely but humorously said, “..If God has it in His plan to lift me out of the wheelchair, He could use your faith. So keep believing!…” 1
- We can’t assume someone is in a deteriorated state of health because of a lack of faith. The Apostle Paul in the Bible certainly did not lack faith (2 Cor. 12:7-10) (Gal. 4:13-16), nor did righteous Job in the Old Testament.
- Even though our spiritual life is important to health, there is not a cookie cutter approach to healing.
- If you do feel like someone’s faith is waning due to their health, don’t condemn them. Chastising them for a lack of faith will most likely do the exact opposite of what you were hoping would transpire. Instead, pray for them, mourn with them, encourage them, remember how patient God was with you, and also remember that if you are well, it is only through the grace of God.
5. Try not to respond with a flippant “I claim this is gone in Jesus’ name.”– Jesus’ name is the most powerful name. It’s the name of the only man who can ever claim a sinless life. He is the only one who was able to carry on the unique fullness of man while retaining His glorious position of God. He transcends cultures, ages, times… the list goes on! Unfortunately there are people who are tempted to use His name almost as if it’s a magical incantation (spell) to remove all illness from every person prayed over directly on the spot. Some were even incorrectly invoking the name of Christ in early church history (Acts 19:11-20).
- The question then comes, what motive do we have in praying for someone’s sickness to disappear? Do we truly hold compassion towards the individual we are praying over? Are we fervently praying intercessory prayers over the individual? Do we remember it sometimes takes fighting in the spiritual realm through fasting and deep prayer?
6. Don’t ostracize the sick. This last point is not so much what someone says, but what they do (or more accurately put, what they don’t do). Do you avoid the chronically ill, and instead, only carry on relationships that are problem free with people just like you? The Bible says to invite the lame and crippled to eat. Invite people who cannot repay you. The Bible also stresses to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those mourn. The rejoicing part is the easy part. The mourning isn’t always fun! But just think, you could be the very light someone needs in their time of darkness.
*Important note: if you have ever done any of the above to an individual who is chronically ill, know that there is grace for slip-ups! Know that this is not a list to condemn, but instead to educate, enlighten, and spread empathy.
1. Tada, Joni Eareckson. “Introduction.” A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty. 1st ed. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010. 15-17. Print.
Related Post: Redefining Strength When You Battle Chronic Illness