Ninety million Americans, or one in three, live with chronic illness or conditions. Yet most show no outward sign of their disability--or the sense of loss, loneliness, and discouragement with which they daily live. Pain, fatigue, limited mobility, and other symptoms interfere with everyday activities, responsibilities, and relationships. Once diagnosed, many feel relegated to the sidelines of life--even at church. Well-meaning Christians, not understanding the unique challenges and struggles faced by the chronically ill, don't know what to say or do to help. Here's what you can do to help:
Spend time with the chronically ill outside of church.
Meet at a time of day when they feel best. Those living with chronic illness struggle with regular attendance at church, Bible studies, and fellowship gatherings. Pain and fatigue take their toll, leading to physical and emotional isolation. Take time to visit those living with chronic illness at their homes or invite them to lunch. A short visit over coffee or tea can make a world of difference in the life of someone struggling with chronic pain.
Understand when those living with chronic illness arrive late to, or leave early from, church, Bible studies, meetings, etc.
Those suffering with chronic illness struggle with excessive fatigue, making long meetings, evening Bible studies, and traveling to conferences and events difficult. Allow for late arrivals and early departures.
Release expectations and be flexible.
For someone living with chronic illness, it is possible to feel well one day and sick the next, making last-minute cancellations unavoidable. Expect unpredictability and extend grace.
Affirm the individual's worth, value, and identity in Christ.
Feelings of insignificance and low self-worth often accompany chronic illness. Verbally affirm those who live with chronic illness. Do not assume they have it "all together," even if they look like they do! Speak words of affirmation based on who they are, not on what they do.
Be a "safe place" where those who are suffering can express frustration, anger, or discouragement.
Send notes, cards, and small gifts in the mail.
Books, CDs, or magazines can provide tremendous encouragement to those unable to leave their homes due to pain and fatigue.
Encourage "nontraditional" expressions of faith and fellowship.
The Internet provides numerous opportunities to minister and connect with other believers online. Online mentoring, publishing, and blogging provide a much-needed outlet for those living with chronic illness and offer fellowship and relationships, which are key to everyone's health and well-being. Understand when those living with chronic illness express their faith in nontraditional ways.
Understand that those living with chronic illness have an important contribution to make to the body of Christ and help them find a place to serve.
Ask, "How can I help you serve in the body of Christ? What would an ideal ministry for you look like?"Above all, express the love of Christ in practical, tangible ways!
Online resources for those living with chronic illness and those who love them:Invisible Disabilities AdvocateHelping people understand chronic illness and painwww.myida.org
Dave Dravecky's Outreach of HopeOffers hope and encouragement to those sufferingBe sure to sign up for their free publication, The Encourager Magazine.www.outreachofhope.org Rest MinistriesHelp for those living with chronic illness