Responding to people with a chronic illness

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Responding to people with a chronic illness
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Ashleigh McIntyre (left) and Kalie Tripp (right) look for ways that the church can improve when it comes to dealing with chronic illness. Photo by Kristin Wileman


By Ashleigh McIntyre and Kalie Tripp

The church tends to thrive in times of crisis. In times of high intensity and quick action, few respond faster than the clergy or the devoted Christ-follower. However, when it comes to dealing with people with long-term conditions or chronic illnesses, the church has much room to grow.

A chronic illness is any malady lasting three months or longer. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 133 million Americans currently live with a chronic illness — that is more than 40 percent of the American population. Chronic illness affects every aspect of a person’s life, greatly limiting the daily routine of physical or mental activities.

Many people do not know how to approach a person with a chronic illness. It can be daunting. Of this, we are aware. Whether you are fighting a chronic illness or have known someone fighting chronic illness here are some things we wish everyone knew.

  1. There’s more to us than our sicknesses. Chronic illnesses often seem to be a conversation killer. It never seems to go beyond “how are you doing” or “how are you feeling.” Conversation ends there. Though most people genuinely care, this question keeps the illness in the forefront of the mind. When constantly asked about an illness, one quickly becomes subconsciously labeled as the sick person. There is so much more to us than that.
  1. Please never say our health is too difficult for you to be around. This mentality is another reason why we don’t like talking about how we are feeling. Constantly fighting against one’s body is overwhelming and becomes a mental and physical battle. We desperately need the emotional support of the people we have in our lives. Often times when we are open and honest, our illness becomes too much for some to handle. In many cases we’ve had friends walk away as its too hard on them to watch us suffer. In other cases we’ve had friends look to us for support in dealing with our chronic illness, making us the emotional support for the very people we need supporting us.
  1. Don’t be disappointed if healing isn’t instant. In the Pentecostal church there is a heavy emphasis on supernatural, instantaneous healing. While this is wonderful and biblical, this focus can sometimes be a major discouragement for people fighting chronic illnesses. Oftentimes, people pray for healing, then are disappointed when nothing changes. Yes, prayer for healing is important. We firmly believe it is possible. However, when healing doesn’t come as we want it to, it causes confusion and hurt towards the church for those suffering. The emphasis should be asking the Lord for His strength and daily sustenance. That is the healing that gets us through each day. God’s divinely given strength is often a miracle in itself.
  1. There isn’t going to be a quick solution. Most of the time when someone asks how they can help, there isn’t an answer. We wish there was an easy fix, but there’s nothing a friend can do to take away the discomfort or pain we may be experiencing. Just be available. Stand beside us. Be our friend. Have grace, try to understand and don’t give up praying even if it seems like nothing is happening.
  1. Have grace. Be patient when we cancel last minute.We don’t always know how we’ll be feeling a week from now, so it’s hard to make plans. Understand that things aren’t always what they seem, though we may look fine on the outside we’re in turmoil on the inside, constantly fighting to keep up.
  2. Please pray. Pray for us and pray with us. We have had many miserable days when our illness has completely changed through prayer.

Maybe one day healing will come. Maybe that healing will come through medicine. Maybe that will come from a divine touch. Even if that never happens, the journey through chronic illness is a journey of trusting God’s plan and sovereignty. Instead of trying to make this a quick-fix solution, put on your marathon shoes. Commit to stand by your chronically ill friends regardless of their health. Be careful what you say and be careful how you pray.