Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Encourage the Chronically Ill

During my struggle with chronic pain, I have realized that people just don't know what to say someone dealing with chronic illness.  So after a few months most don't say anything at all. No phone calls, no emails, no "how are you"...nothing.  I can't blame them. I had no idea what chronic illness was like prior to this experience and I'm even a nurse! Most of us think of sickness as an acute problem not something that lasts a lifetime, as it does for some.  It has been particularly frustrating to me that the church doesn't do a better job caring for the chronically ill.  Some churches do have ministries to support those living with illness and/or pain, but those ministries are few and far between.

A few months into my journey I found Rest Ministries founded by Lisa Copen, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Rest Ministries is the largest Christan organization that encourages the chronically ill. Lisa has written several books including Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend.  This book is such a wonderful resource both to those living with chronic illness and those who are not. We all have contact with the chronically ill, even if we don't know it because many chronic illnesses are invisible. 

If you suffer from chronic pain/illness I encourage you to start a support group for others suffering in your church or community.  Suffering with a purpose is much more enjoyable.  For those of you who don't suffer with chronic illness I encourage you to find someone who does and encourage them.  This is a great way to "encourage one another daily" (Hebrews 3:13).  In her book, Lisa Copen says, "We rationalize, 'Surely she has other friends who has offered her support during this trying time.  I'm sure I wasn't even missed.  I don't have the time to do much for her anyway.'" Our churches commonly pray and take meals to Sally who has the flu or Bob who is having a surgery and while this is important, people with chronic illnesses often are forgotten even though they suffer daily.

Beyond Casseroles gives short, easy, and practical examples of how one can encourage someone with a chronic illness.  Here are a few examples taken from Lisa Copen's book:

  1.       Don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” People rarely feel comfortable saying, “Yes, my laundry.”  Instead pick something you are  willing to do and then ask her permission. 
  2.       Ask, “How is your pain level today?” No one ever asks this and yet his life revolves around it. He’ll appreciate your concern!
  3.       Say, “I’d like to bring you dinner next week. Would Monday or Tuesday night be better?”
  4.       Give her a jar of encouragement.  Fill a jar with slips of paper each bearing encouragement, such as verses from the Bible or positive says.  Tell her whenever she is feeling down to pull out a word of encouragement.
  5.      Offer to change her sheets. This is an impossible task for many people with chronic illness but an awkward task to ask for help with.
  6.      Ask, “What do you wish people understood about your illness?”
  7.      Mop the floors.
  8.      Just show up! Phone calls are nice but visiting in person is much more intimate!
  9.       Ask, “How are your family members handling your illness? How can I pray for them?
  10.     Recognize that what she could do yesterday may not be possible. Don't question that. Every day is different.


    1. excellent post! Do you have any advice for those who are far from the chronically ill person they care fore (i.e., those who live states away from you)? How can we help when we can't "drop by"?

    2. Thanks Amy! Encouraging a chronically ill person long distance will look different, but is still important. You can email, call, send a "care package", notes with encouraging scripture or quotes/hymns, links to good sermons, etc. Just keeping in touch about what is going on in each others' lives offers great encouragement! And reminding them that God is in control and their illness has purpose because no matter how long the illness goes on there are still days when we doubt and feel sorry for ourselves.