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How to walk with someone with chronic illness

Supporting someone who has a chronic illness can be a complex and confusing experience. I’ve been there. You want to be there for them but don’t quite know how to do so in a way that truly benefits them. They have their moments which are completely out of character and you have no idea how to respond to this person you don’t recognise anymore. It can be awkward. But it doesn’t have to be.


I am so grateful for the community that God has blessed me with during this season of illness. I don’t know where I’d be without the practical support of family and friends and the prayers of so many people in my world. I believe that God created us for relationship and that life is never meant to be lived alone.


Whether you’re going through chronic illness yourself or know someone who is, I hope you find the following tips useful when doing the journey with others. Now these are not intended to be blanket rules that apply to all situations but are purely insights from my experience that I thought I should share.


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“Are there any believers in your fellowship suffering great hardship and distress? Encourage them to pray! Are there happy, cheerful ones among you? Encourage them to sing out their praises! Are there any sick among you? Then ask the elders of the church to come and pray over the sick and anoint them with oil in the name of our Lord. And the prayer of faith will heal the sick and the Lord will raise them up, and if they have committed sins they will be forgiven.” | James (Jacob)‬ ‭5:13-15‬ ‭(The Passion Translation)

DOs


  • Do follow up the statement “let me know if there’s anything I can do” by offering some practical examples. The brain capacity of someone who is chronically unwell is exhausted by simply getting through the day, let alone thinking of ways others can help. You suggesting practical ways to provide support makes a huge difference. Also, only say it if you mean it!


  • Do stand with them in FAITH. Be the one who will believe for their healing, even at times when they may be lacking in faith.


  • Do pray WITH them not just FOR them. I know that when someone actually prays with me right there and then, it strengthens my faith, especially when I just don’t have the words to pray.


  • Do let them feel whatever emotion is emerging at the time. Be patient and understand that irritability can come with chronic pain. Positive mantras to boost their moods can backfire, especially if delivered in a way that doesn’t make the person feel heard for what they’re going through.


  • Do give them time. Time to navigate this difficult and unfamiliar terrain, to figure out what it means for them. Don’t expect them to have all the answers to your questions so soon after their diagnosis, or ever. There are so many uncertainties that come with illness and they’re simply learning to embrace these uncertainties.



DON'Ts


  • Don’t say “I understand” unless you have experienced it yourself. Though the phrase is well meaning, it generally has the effect of diminishing the weight of the issue if it’s not said from personal experience.


  • Don’t try and offer a solution unless you are actually qualified. As much as I appreciate people wanting to help and see me recover, just knowing you’re thinking of me or simply listening to me is enough. Leave the healing strategies to the Lord and their medical team, they know what they’re doing! Even better, pray that God would give their medical advisers wisdom to find answers.


  • Don’t assume. Never assume:

...that their physical appearance is a direct reflection of their condition

...that they will respond to things the way they used to

...what they need (unless they physically cannot communicate).



Please don’t feel any guilt or shame if you’ve ever acted in contrary to these tips because I certainly have! The only difference is that I now have additional insight being someone who has experienced chronic illness and want to help you feel better prepared to be a supportive friend/family member/colleague.



Do you know someone who is currently experiencing chronic illness? Or perhaps you’re going through this yourself. Let me know if any of the above resonates with you, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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