I‘ve spent time over the last month collecting some of the best voices on chronic illness and pain from the lens of Christians enduring long-term health issues. The words these wonderful people have to offer are filled with such astounding wisdom. Take a listen:
1. I want to serve, be involved at church, and become immersed in Christian community, but so often I can’t do these things because of my pain. Esther Smith from Life in Slow Motion: One thing I want people to know is why I’m not around. It’s not because I’m lazy or anti-social. It’s not because I would rather be at home watching TV or reading a book. There are so many activities I am unable to tolerate, because my pain prevents me from sitting, standing, or walking for any significant period of time.
Even when I am physically able to do an activity, sometimes I still can’t because something else is more important. I may need to choose making dinner for my family over attending Bible study, or resting up for work tomorrow over hanging out with friends. Just because I’m not there, doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there. Just because I sometimes miss church does not mean I am backsliding or sinning. So often, I desperately want to be present, and it is extremely upsetting when this isn’t possible.
2. I struggle with feeling as if my health condition is my identity. Hannah from Young Wives Club: I know that God declared me worthy, but somehow, my own sight seems to be clouded by this day-to-day struggle. Despite my attempts to shake off this feeling of misplaced identity, I find myself continually reminded of its existence.
Sometimes I wonder when the pain and restrictions will go away, but inevitably I find myself beat down once again believing that this will never leave me. That this illness is who I am both now and forever. But then there are time where I recognize that this is not my identity, I remember who God has called me to be. He has not labeled me “broken,” “inadequate,” or “mistake.” He has called me “daughter (1 John 3:1),” “holy (Colossians 1:22),” “righteous (Romans 3:20),” and “redeemed (Psalm 107:2).” This illness is not me. It may be part of my story, but it will never be strong enough to define me.
3. Even if you don’t know how to help, please don’t leave. Sara from Romans 5:35: Chronic illnesses comes in so many different shapes and forms, that vary even by the person, and by the day. I know that those who do not have chronic illness themselves can feel very uncomfortable trying to help those who do, and even though many really want to help, they don’t know how to. I mean, we who do have it barely know how to help everything! Sometimes it can seem easier for everyone if those who don’t know how to help don’t get involved. I would like to ask for something different, though- I know that you may not know how to help, and I’m totally okay with that! Just please don’t leave me alone.
4. I can feel as though I let everyone down because of my illness and cannot be the wife and mother my children deserve. Diane Ferreira from Worth Beyond Rubies: Chronic physical pain can be debilitating, not only to the body but to the mind and heart as well. I struggle multiple times a week feeling as though my husband and my children deserve better. I feel like I let God down because I cannot be the help mate and mother HE wants me to be. But although God did not give me this pain, He uses it to teach me valuable things about love and patience. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 comes to mind each time.
God uses this to show me the love of a husband who will do anything to make me more comfortable. My husband is a living and breathing example of 1 Corinthians 7. He extends grace to me each day. And in God’s grace, although I still suffer with physical pain, God also teaches me a valuable lesson about His love for me. That while I can’t ever do enough to earn it and at times, I can’t or don’t do what He would will for me to do, I have His love and His grace and His patience. My pain and my reliance on the love and patience of a wonderful husband has shown me the example of the Heavenly love and patience of my Savior and my need to rely on Him.
5. Although physical healing would be wonderful, and we still believe in the power of healing and miracles, we learn to find Christ in whatever situation we face. Our illness can have a purpose. Emily Sandison from To Fly Again:
I feel like so many Christians see my physical struggle and say things to me like “you’re going to get through this.” ”God is your healer” and “we are praying for your healing”. All of which is lovely, but it kind of implies that we cannot be fully content while our health battle still rages. This can be slightly detrimental because it focuses our eyes on the end rather than the process we are walking through.
The eternal life we life with Christ is in the now, and gives us hope and strength each day.
6. When a friend comes alongside us, it nourishes our soul. Melanie Fagan from She Breathes Hope: Whether it’s praying for me, encouraging me, or simply listening with understanding, it validates me as a human and not just the sicknesses.
It’s so easy to get lost in our symptoms and become isolated. When a phone call, email, or text comes through, in that moment our focus is on the friendship and joy. Having a close friend tell you that they understand and challenge you, despite your illness and to be all that God has for you to be, is beyond measure.
So often, disease tries to define who we are, but does it have to? It may set limitations, but the people in our world that continue to nurture and encourage are precious, a true gift, living life as Jesus did. So please, make that phone call, take a meal, create some art together, or have a cup of coffee. Bring the love. Bring the fun. I guarantee, it makes all the difference in our world. Having a friend with an encouraging heart, literally sets our eyes towards Jesus, which in turn does indeed strengthen the soul.
7. Chronic illnesses are both a blessing and a curse- Jerusha Borden from Jerusha Borden.com: When you struggle with a chronic illness you know how difficult it can be. You know the pain that you experience even when others don’t. You know how hard it can be to explain to others when it doesn’t match up with the pretty pain scale adorning the wall in the doctor’s office. You know how it feels to be robbed of quality of life and the ability to do small tasks that others take for granted.
But here’s the hope we crave – chronic illness can also be a blessing. Because in the midst of our difficulties, we understand a deep need for the presence of Christ. If I never felt like I was stuck in the river, I wouldn’t need Him to hold my hand and help me out. If we had never had been diagnosed with a chronic illness, we may not have come to understand our desperate need for the presence of Christ in our lives. It is only because of this, I have learned to be thankful for this curse, because from it sprang up my greatest blessing.
8. Having a chronic illness can change your personality. Michael from Inkblots of Hope: I had watched my wife endure chronic illness, but I had a difficult time putting the two together that her moments of quietness and solitude were related to her extreme fatigue and pain that made it difficult for her to exert herself. I didn’t understand until I had my own chronic illness. Previously, I had always loved going out and connecting with people, but chronic illness changed that. I don’t have the energy to connect and talk like I once did. I’m now in a strange world as a natural extrovert who acts like an introvert because of chronic illness.
If there’s one thing I want to convey to loved ones of those with chronic health conditions, it is this- if your loved one who is sick isn’t communicating with you, the reasoning may not be that they’re blocking you out. It could very well be that they do not have the energy reserves to connect with you. Seek first to understand.
9. It may not be a lack of faith or a secret sin someone is harboring that causes their sickness. Sarah from Inkblots of Hope: I think we would all love to believe that if a certain detrimental situation happened, we would come out unscathed. If someone was raped in the town over from us, we would conclude that the rape victim most likely took the wrong road and was in a locale where we would never traverse. I think the same mentality can, unfortunately, happen in churches. The thought goes something like this, “If I became sick with her health condition, I would see [fill in the blank] faith healer.” “I would know the right medical interventions.” “I would never suffer like that person because I have enough faith.” I think we need to be careful with this line of thinking because it can create an air of self-righteousness and condemnation.
As much as there is a “reaping and sowing” in the Bible in which blessings spring forth from a faithful lifestyle, there are also the Jobs of the Bible where his seeds of righteousness were perfume drawing the enemy into a testing ground because of his faith, not in spite of his faith. I would love for others to understand that for most, chronic illness is not a choice.
If I could use this opportunity to speak to Christians who have friends with similar struggles, I would plead with you to be patient. Be loving. Be understanding. I’m well aware that it appears scary and generally doesn’t make sense to you. Believe me- it doesn’t make sense to us either! We didn’t ask to carry these unique burdens, but we try to do so with strength and bravery. We also never aimed to inconvenience you, and for the times we do, we’re sorry. We’re sorry for the times we had to cancel our plans at the last second. We’re sorry that because of us, those plans had to be altered slightly. We’re sorry that we get emotional at random times and simply need a shoulder to cry on.
I am reminded of Job who lost everything he had, including his health, and found himself in deep despair. His friends gathered together and uplifted him in his time of need, but then regretfully, turned to preaching without compassion. Please, be to us how Job’s friends were initially. Seek to understand and show compassion and whatever you do, friend, don’t give up on us!