What to do When...Your Friend is Facing Chronic Illness or Chronic Pain

Posted Feb 8th, 2018 in Rhonda Wiersma, Helping Others

What to do When...Your Friend is Facing Chronic Illness or Chronic Pain

In this second blog post in our series (My first post was on what do when your friend is facing a crisis), I will be addressing how to help your friend who is experiencing the debilitating and life changing effects of chronic illness or pain. I wish to express that if you are reading this and involved in someone’s life that is experiencing long term pain and illnesses, you are in a privileged place. I know that it might not always feel like it, but you are. When someone is experiencing chronic pain or illness, her world shrinks and she can feel- and often times is- very isolated. If you have been invited into your friend’s life, then you are in a very trusted position.

Your friend wants to be understood. Ask your friend questions--and lots of them! Asking questions leads to a deeper understanding of what her experience is like and you will learn about her intense struggles, griefs, and joys. Pay particular attention to how she views and talks about God. Validate doubts and questions but keep gently bringing her to the truths of Scripture, especially in the Psalms. Along with understanding, validate her experience. Nothing is worse than feeling sick and having someone think it’s all “in your head” or “get over it already.”

Never think that the person has done something to cause this illness or pain. Jesus suffered immensely (Isaiah 53, John 15.18, Psalm 22) with no link to personal sin. I think of what Jesus said about the Galileans whose “blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices” and the 18 when the tower of Siloam fell on them, “do you think that these Galileans were worse than all the others Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no! …Or those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty then all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!” (Luke 13:1-5). Never think that God is punishing her in some way. God does not punish but rather he disciplines as sons (discipline comes from the word disciple). Proverbs 3: 11-12 reads: “my son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12 quotes this passage and further exhorts: “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and are not true sons” (vv. 7-8). What is being said here is that suffering is a sign that your friend is a true Christian. Never think that she may not have enough faith to be healed. Rather than prioritizing physical healing, God wants to do a deeper healing in your friend, the spiritual healing and restoration. In Mark 1, we read about Jesus healing people but in the early morning, Jesus goes to a solitary place to pray. His disciples come looking for him, exclaiming “everyone is looking for you!” Jesus says something profound: “Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (vv. 35-28). This does not mean God does not heal people or is not interested in healing people with physical ailments (Psalm 103: 3 and other Gospel accounts of healing). Rather, God is sovereign and knows what is truly better for your friend. We still ought to pray for physical healing, but the more your friend grows in her relationship with God, desires will shift from prioritizing physical healing to deepening a relationship with Jesus. He can and will grant joy and peace amid the pain, frustration, and fears. Can your friend say with confidence, “even if God does not heal me, I will still rejoice in the LORD my God (Habakkuk 3: 17-19)? Even if my God does not heal, that I will still remain faithful to end the end?” There is more to be said about this, but take a look at the resources below.

Offer practical help. Ever had it where someone mentioned, with a genuine desire to help, “Call me you need anything, even if it’s at 3AM.” Have you ever take someone on that offer? Didn’t think so (or am I the only one?). Rather than putting a person in an awkward spot at 3AM, maybe set your own alarm and text her at 3AM and see if she needs prayer. Pray with her after visiting with her and pray when you think about her. Show up with a meal. Show up at her door and explain you are there to do her dishes or her laundry. Get her schedule of appointments and arrange drivers for those appointments. Provide childcare for an evening or for the weekend. Whatever you do, just remember that for your friend asking for help (when she’s probably already receiving a ton of help from all kinds of people) will feel like asking for help will be one more chore (or even a burden) that feels intensely shameful. The thought behind this is: “why can’t I be normal already!? I just want to do life like a normal person!!”

Finally, three things: 1) Do not forget her significant other; he will need support and prayer too. 2) Do not forget to take care of yourself. Burnout in helpers is high. You are a human in need of prayer, sleep, and time to refresh as well. 3) I’ve used female pronouns in this post. But males experiencing chronic illness and pain feel much more shame admitting weaknesses in this area. Be kind and be alert to the men in your life who could be struggling.

Are you in a position of walking alongside someone with a chronic condition? Are you someone who is suffering and feel like you need some support? Consider checking out these resources:

Rest Ministries

Joni and Friends

Beyond Suffering Study Bible

Being There: How to Love Those Who are Hurting by Dave Furman

Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering by Kelly Kapic (an academic but thorough resource)

Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer

The Scars that Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Our Sufferings by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

But God, Wouldn't I Be More Useful to You If I Were Healthy? by Esther Smith

When Chronic Pain & Illness Take Everything Away: How to Mourn Our Losses by Esther Smith

Hope When It Hurts by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton