Carolyn MacDonald was diagnosed with a chronic illness when she was a regular member of a church but she still found herself longing for more support from her community. Here, she explains how we can better come along side people and help them not to feel isolated.
When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, I already knew of six other Christians who were living with long-term health conditions; four living in the UK and two who lived in Australia. Even though this was the case, I still felt somewhat misunderstood and longing for support from my church as I came to terms with the diagnosis.
Sadly, many people in similar circumstances face the same isolation and loneliness in our churches and communities. Whether the health condition is physical, mental or a combination of both, the Bible calls us to care for those who are unwell (1 John 3:17, Galatians 6:2 and Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan). What could this look like practically? How can we, as the body of Christ, serve those in our community who are suffering from long-term health conditions?
Meeting Practical Needs
Whether it be dropping off a cooked meal, offering to help with laundry, or picking up shopping, there are many ways that we can help to meet the physical needs of others. Illness can prevent someone from going out the house and sometimes even leave people bed-bound or unable to move well without assistance. Offering help with practical tasks round the home is a helpful way of supporting someone with a long-term illness, and if they are well enough to do the tasks with you, it also allows time for socialising.
Does anyone else feel as though you’re not being listened to when the person they’re speaking with is looking at their phone? Sadly it’s a common occurrence in society and I know that many of us (myself included) are guilty of paying more attention to a screen than the people around us. Taking time to listen without distraction allows the people around us to feel loved and valued. Those living with long term illnesses often find social outings and making conversation to be tiring or to cause anxiety, so showing someone that you are giving them your full attention helps them to feel supported and heard.
Since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I am blessed to know that my family has prayed for me. Some people have prayed for complete healing whilst others have prayed for strength to carry out daily tasks. Each and every prayer is appreciated and is heard by our living God. The power of prayer is not to be underestimated and praying for those in our churches and communities shows our faith and trust in God, as well as our love and concern for others.
Making Church Accessible
Going to church can be a struggle for someone living with a long-term illness. This may be due to anxiety, tiredness, transport etc. What is your church doing to ensure it is accessible? Is the building at an accessible level? Is there a disabled bathroom? Are people able to watch the service online in case they have to stay at home? Does someone check in with those who haven’t made it to church in a while? Are you able to offer a lift to someone who struggles with physical pain? Do you have a sign language interpreter or a speaker system with hearing aid loops? Are print outs and leaflets in a size and font that are easy to read?
There are so many things to be considered when it comes to making our church accessible for as many people as possible, and some of these will take time and investment but are worthwhile for the people in our churches and communities.
Church isn’t just a service on Sunday so it’s important to help people feel included whether this be through Bible study groups, opportunities to serve, or access to pastoral support. Those living with a long-term illness should be able to feel valued and wanted within their church, with equal opportunities and consideration. As Christians, Christ calls us to welcome people into the body of Christ and to support and encourage one another as we seek to serve God.
Many people who struggle with a physical illness will tell you that it also has implications on their mental wellbeing. Setting aside time to send a quick message, pop a card in the post or to visit someone with a long-term illness can be like a ray of sunshine for that person. Checking in with someone helps them to feel seen and allows them to open up to someone. It’s important to remember that when someone shares with us in confidence, it is not our place to share this information with others unless we are seriously concerned for this person and may then reach out to a pastor or elder for advice. Taking time to speak to someone also helps you to better understand how you can help and love that person well, as well as how their needs will change in different seasons of life.
It’s important that as Christians we have a continual conversation about chronic-illnesses and how to support those suffering, and it is vital to include these people in the conversation. Without listening to those with lived experience, we won’t be able to move forward or love those who need our support.