I have a soft spot for those who struggle with chronic health issues, those who experience chronic suffering.
Just recently, I had yet another bout with sinusitis and was reminded once again how much I dislike being ill. I have a medical history complicated by allergies and asthma along with an immune system that just doesn’t work well and never has.
Truthfully, the ONLY positive medical rarity I’ve experienced in life thus far is giving birth to twins! 🙂
While my medical issues pale in comparison to so many others, I struggle often enough to understand some of what it feels like to battle chronic medical conditions.
I understand that chronic sufferers often feel lonely because illness keeps them at home in isolation.
I understand the judgment sometimes felt from uncaring medical professionals, unsympathetic friends, and even gossipers who relate physical health to spiritual health.
I understand the weariness of facing yet another day of pain with no end in sight.
I understand total helplessness.
Over the years, I’ve heard people say some pretty harsh things about our sisters in Christ with chronic conditions, and I’m very ashamed to admit I’ve even had these same thoughts on occasion:
They’re just depressed. They need to get help.
They obviously can’t handle pain well, so they exaggerate their symptoms.
All they do is complain!
They are not living a healthy lifestyle. If they would just eat right, exercise, etc. then they would feel better.
They are not disciplined enough. They should just do what’s right in spite of how they feel.
They’re not trusting God enough.
While all of these statements have the potential to be at least partially true in many cases, they come across as self-righteous.
Is that a little harsh?
However, such self-righteous thoughts or even voiced opinions do nothing to uplift or encourage that sister in Christ who is so lonely, so overwhelmed, so discouraged, so needy.
Consider these excerpts from Job, who suffered for the glory of the Lord.
4 “I have become a laughingstock to my friends,
though I called on God and he answered—
a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!
5 Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune
as the fate of those whose feet are slipping…
16 Then Job replied:
2 “I have heard many things like these;
you are miserable comforters, all of you!
3 Will your long-winded speeches never end?
What ails you that you keep on arguing?
4 I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
5 But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief…
19 Then Job replied:
2 “How long will you torment me
and crush me with words?
3 Ten times now you have reproached me;
shamelessly you attack me.
4 If it is true that I have gone astray,
my error remains my concern alone…
Job was “blameless and upright”; he had done nothing to deserve his suffering, and he continued to turn to the Lord throughout. Yet, how did his religious friends respond? They criticized him. They questioned his faith.
When he needed them most, Job’s friends failed him. How sad that they missed the opportunity to demonstrate brotherly love to Job!
As sisters in Christ, we are called to minister to those in need! Even if those suffering are not as blameless as Job, we are responsible to love them through the difficult times.
I know from experience that suffering from a medical condition can make a person pretty needy, and sometimes we grow weary of giving to someone who cannot give back. Trust me; I’ve been on that side of the coin, too.
As Job said, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune…”
How quickly we forget the depth of the dark when we are bathing in the light.
I’m guilty of it myself.
So, how can we avoid being unsympathetic know-it-alls like Job’s friends?
1. Check your attitude. Don’t condemn or condescend; show compassion instead. You cannot possibly know how difficult your sister’s life is unless you’ve been there yourself. Try to remember a time in your life when you suffered great physical pain or discomfort. Now imagine dealing with that on a daily basis with no end in sight! “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another….” Eph. 4:32
2. Remember that dealing with medical issues can be scary and lonely, especially when an issue lacks a confirmed diagnosis. Doctors are not always correct and sometimes they lack the medical knowledge or the compassion to find answers patients need. Just because a person does not yet have a diagnosis does not mean “it’s all in the head.” Remind them that you will remain a faithful friend.
3. Before you offer advice to your suffering sister, consider your relationship with her. Are you close enough to her to have all of the facts, or have you made assumptions based on partial information? Have you first spent time in earnest prayer for her? Do you have a strong enough relationship that she will be able to hear you in love without being wounded by your words?
4. Be the Body of Christ! Offer an encouraging word, send a card or note to let her know you are thinking of and praying for her! Additionally, offer some practical help – making a meal, providing child care, cleaning the house, running an errand, even giving financially to help with medical bills in the case of severe illness. Don’t say, “If you need help, let me know.” Instead say, “I want to help by _________. When is a good day or time?” A specific offer of help is much more difficult to turn down. 🙂
On the other hand, if you, my sister in Christ, struggle with chronic medical issues, remember that you are not alone and that God IS in control, even when it doesn’t feel like it. The Word can be a tremendous source of encouragement during such trials
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We don’t always understand His ways, His reasons, for allowing trials in our lives, but we can trust in His compassion for us.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jesus suffered. He suffered physically, emotionally, even mentally in his life as a human on earth. He was betrayed by friends and rejected (albeit briefly) by His own father. He suffered horribly and then He died. If anyone can understand your pain, He can!
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
Over the years, I have learned that God often uses illness to get my attention, to bring me back to that place where I am totally reliant on Him because my physical body has failed me.
I don’t always know or understand why God allows such frequent illness, but I am secure in the fact that He only allows things into my life that He can work for good (Rom. 8:28). I hope you find that same comfort!
So as we go about our week, let’s remember those in our circles who are hurting. I challenge you to put a little time and effort into encouraging a suffering sister in Christ this week!
Who’s with me?
If you know someone who is struggling spiritually rather than physically, here’s an excellent article on that issue:
Sharing with: Grace and Truth