1. “I’m too busy.”
Every choice you make shows your life priorities. With these three little word, you’ve told your friend that they’re last.
After grocery shopping. Scrubbing your toilet. Talking to other friends. Stepping away from that customer, heading out of that meeting a few minutes early, or writing that last paragraph.
Or maybe even skipping a church service to worship with them.
Chronic illness strips life to the bare bones. People who suffer with pain or daily defy death are busy about the task of survival. More than most people, they know the meaning of “too busy.” And most are still finding ways to give to others on the journey.
Saying you’re too busy invalidates the day-to-day significance and sanctity of their courage and resilience.
Busy is not activity.
Busy is meaningful engagement with the work God has given us.
3. “Including you could make other people feel awkward.”
Yep. Christians really say this. And when they don’t say it out loud, they live it by avoiding, excluding, or consciously or subconsciously condescending. They feel awkward with wheelchairs, catheters, other strange medical equipment and procedures, and friends who just never get better year after year. They want to offer solution and feel inadequate. So they drift away.
They use their discomfort with other people’s needs as a measuring stick for inclusion. Clearly this is not what Jesus taught. Jesus was never concerned about offending others when He extended compassion to the suffering. He always met people at their point of need. His ministry was public, so people could see his heart and learn.
As believers, our role is to become compassionate advocates on behalf of the sick and broken. We need to educate ourselves about their needs and join them in those places. This will mean sacrifice, discomfort, and speaking up on their behalf. It will be learning to see through their eyes and teaching others to see them with dignity. And perhaps above all, offering the simple gift of presence for the long haul.
3. “Why aren’t you over this yet?”
In many circles, Christians grow impatient if healing doesn’t come quickly. People with chronic illness and especially invisible illnesses feel judged, isolated, and labeled as somehow less than spiritual.
Lacking in faith.
Or simply navigating the medical field in ways that others disapprove of.
Jesus was intolerant of spiritual judgment. He offered compassion to the suffering. And he told us to expect that WE would suffer, and that the path to being conformed to his image would require learning tough lessons.
Disease and decay is part of a sinful world–whether we experience aging eyes, rheumatoid arthritis, or saggy skin. Some people experience miraculous healing. Some do not. It’s God’s business why, and his plan to use us for his glory through miraculous healing or chronic illness. Either way, his glory and blessings in our lives are not diminished, and we don’t feel like we need to apologize for him. Ever.
So if you feel impatient or judgmental of the chronically ill or prideful in yourself, your seeming faith or theology or medical approach over someone else’s, stop it. God hates pride.
Ask what you can learn from those who are suffering. Walk beside them. Listen. And offer a learning, compassionate spirit.
- Perhaps you’re a middle-aged Sunday School teacher. What can you learn from a fourteen-year old girl who has to go to school and cath herself to get through the day? How has she learned to cope?
- What about the single mother of three who lives two hours from the nearest children’s hospital, where here toddler daughter receives ongoing inpatient medical care for her cerebral palsy? How does Mom care for the other two kids at home while caring for her daughter in the hospital and her own diabetes while maintaining a job and income?
- Or what about the twenty-three year-old in the church pew beside you who wheels into church through the snow to navigate life and lives with her parents? She’s undergone forty surgeries for her cerebral palsy and lives with a shunt in her brain. She has no hope of dating or marriage. She began steroid therapy before the age of ten, which stimulated early breast development and devastated her endocrine system. Her health has devastated her dreams for a husband, children, and she suffers from PTSD from a live of medical procedures. What can she teach you?
- Or more importantly, what rich gifts can these individuals and other bring to the church–to us? What are we missing when we are too blind to enter into their stories with passion, grace, and humility?
What do YOU think? I’d love to hear from you.