Chronic illness is its own unique animal. It doesn’t necessarily require a hospital stay, so there isn’t a sudden swarm of flowers and cards. You may feel like you’re dying, but your family doesn’t gather around your bed and sing hymns. And if someone wanted to set up a meal calendar for you, when would they do it? Should they drop by with a baked lasagna when you finally receive a diagnosis?
And when can the meals stop? When you start feeling better? Yikes! That may be awhile.
These are nuances of long-term illness I would never have understood had I not joined Michael in his chronic illness journey seven years ago. I gained an intimate peek into this difficult side of life, but only as an outside observer.
We all know people who are ill whether they were recently diagnosed, have been sick for years, or are just starting to feel poorly on a semi-regular basis. How can we be a source of encouragement to them in their time of need?
While every person’s illness comes with its own set of challenges, some aspects are commonly shared. From my experience with Michael, I’d like to share some helpful suggestions with you that I’ve learned so far:
- Keep in touch! Keep in touch! Keep in touch! People who are ill over a long period of time tend to gradually fade out of the life and relationships they once knew. Please don’t let that happen with you. Keep them connected. A faithful friend is an invaluable source of encouragement, and a rare treasure.
- Don’t be afraid to inquire about their health and try to be sensitive to their response. If they speak freely about their circumstances, seek to gain a better understanding of what they are going through. Go ahead and ask questions. But if they’re more private about the details, do your best to respect that. Everyone responds to illness differently.
- If you’ve heard of a treatment that worked for you or someone else, you can cautiously share it. But it’s better if you can do it in a no-pressure way rather than insisting that it will work or asking when they plan to try it.
- Ask “How can I help?” and mean it. If you are limited in what you can invest, pick out a need you can meet on an occasional basis or even a one-time support.
- Listen to their struggles and fears and don’t always feel the need to fix it. Sometimes there are just no easy answers—and that’s okay.
- Look for ways to help them or accommodate them without being asked. Just like people who use wheelchairs need ramps and wide doorways, those who are chronically ill may need a slower pace, a calmer atmosphere, or an understanding heart when they can’t keep up.
- Pray for them! And let them know it. I never get tired of hearing someone say they are praying for Michael. It always encourages us both and I can’t help but believe that God is working on our behalf when I know that so many are interceding for us. Pray for their healing and also for their encouragement, perseverance, and faith.
- Make sure they know they are a blessing and not a burden. It’s difficult to be in a position of need, to have stories that are difficult to hear, and commitments you are often unable to fulfill. Let them know their value in your eyes is not consumed by their illness.
- Connect them with other friends you know who are struggling with chronic illness. Life’s trials are more bearable when we know we’re not alone.
- Read a book on chronic illness to give you a better understanding of their struggle. Lisa Copen has a highly recommended book called Learning to Live with Chronic Illness.
- Recommend helpful sources of support. We want chronicencouragement.com to be a helpful and supportive online resource for those who are chronically ill and their caregivers, so please mention us to those you think might benefit. Restministries.com provides great encouragement as well.
For the most part, we as human beings are not naturally drawn to suffering, especially when we feel helpless to end it. But God has called us to something much higher than what is natural or comfortable. In His power and with His Spirit, we can have the honor of bringing His love and comfort to our friends and family in their time of need.
For other ways you can be a blessing, check out Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend by Lisa Copen.
If you can think of other ways to encourage those with chronic illness, please tell us in the comments below or visit our Facebook page. We would love to extend the list and re-post it at a later time.