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How the Church Can Respond to Those With Chronic Illness

How does the church respond to members of the body who live with chronic illness or disability?

How could it respond?

It’s a hard question to answer. It is hard for anyone to know how to deal with chronic situations – which by definition are not going to go away, and which may or may not get better.

In some ways, a crisis is more straightforward. It can get a response from the body of the church, because a straightforward response can be given. If someone is in the hospital, very ill, or in an accident, obvious needs can be met – childcare, food, logistics, yard work, cleaning –mall these areas can be picked up by other capable hands.

If someone has a serious illness, prayer is offered. Healing is desired. Often, it’s expected. And practical help in the way of food and mowing the grass can be arranged.

If someone’s parent, spouse or child has died, practical help and comfort can be given. If there’s divorce, an accident, a fire, or a surgery, food is always good and a listening ear helpful.

It gets messier and more confusing when there is no end in sight. And that’s understandable.

If a person lives day in and day out in a wheelchair, or with chronic pain, or has a disease that is understood not to be curable, the situation becomes different for several reasons. A child with a disability, health problems that don’t resolve, ongoing financial problems, care-giving for a spouse or aging parent – these are all situations that won’t go away in a month or two.

I think the reason this is harder to address is because people love to help, but they would like to feel they brought about a solution. They like results.

I don’t blame them. We all want results.

The other reason is that chronic situations can become invisible. The member of the body has to face the reality of the situation and find a way togo forward and live life. They often do this so beautifully and bravely, learning through the trials to “keep on keeping on,” that the struggle they face may no longer be obvious. They learn to cope, they find resources, they come up with a way to live or they die trying. So, others walking alongside the person may not necessarily see the thorn in the flesh.

Those in chronic situations know these challenges are their own responsibilities. They know nobody is going to be able to be able to waltz in with a casserole and fix the problem. And they know that other people are understandably able to give them only so much. Just because a person’s baby is born with Down’s syndrome doesn’t mean that person gets meals delivered every day for the rest of the child’s life. It doesn’t work that way.

Yet, should the church ignore the struggle?

No. Of course not. While tempering its response with the known reality, that unless God intervenes the situation is not going away, the church can offer love in a practical way – the same kind of love it would offer in an acute one.

Acknowledgement. Prayer. Encouragement. Food. Help with yard work, house work, errands, or childcare for other children. All of these gifts can be given to one whose disease is probably not going to be cured, to one whose difficult situation is not going to just evaporate.

The body cannot minister as intensely in a situation that is chronic – but it can minister.

The circumstances will be different, but the love can be the same.

Getty Image by BorupFoto