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Chronic illness is hard. It’s hard on the sick person and hard on the well. Discouragment comes easily to the one living with difficult symptoms, and simple life actions can feel void of meaning. Even the “feeling good” moments would be considered “bad” to your typical healthy person.
I have several family members that have struggled with chronic illnesses, and these precious people need our love and encouragement. As those closest to them, we need to step up – we can be a light in their lives, but we must be purposeful and careful. And have a healthy bit of backbone.
Here are three things to keep in mind as we minister to friends with chronic illness:
Don’t make assumptions
- Don’t judge them based on their level of enthusiasm. Less than enthusiastic responses may be all that can be mustered. Expending excess energy on things that aren’t vital can compromise the energy stores that are left for necessary activities, like meal prep or self care.
If there is a sudden change in enthusiasm and connection in the middle of a visit, it may be time to cut things short and bow out. It takes a lot of energy to simply exist, so dynamic communication is often impossible to do for very long time periods (and long could mean just a few minutes for some people).
- Lack of communication doesn’t equal dislike. When every little activity takes a gargantuan amount of effort, there is often little strength left to initiate contact with friends and loved ones. Please take on that burden and reach out to them, so they don’t have to.
Don’t expect extended visits
- Understand if they cannot/won’t schedule a visit, and don’t take it personally. They know their limits much better than we do. If a visit isn’t feasible, there are many other ways to love. Perhaps you could make a standing offer to get together whenever they feel well enough to go out. You could tell them to text and see if you’re available when they’re feeling well, but if they never text, don’t go back to #1 and start making assumptions. They need your compassion.
- Realize that you are asking a lot of a person to come visit. Any suggestion to get together should be made very open-ended, and give them many loopholes to cancel if needed. There are a myriad of symptoms that could get in the way of a good visit, and you are showing love by not causing undue stress if they need to cancel.
Don’t give non-committal offers for help
- “Let me know if you need anything” is not helpful, as genuine and caring as your offer may be. When is the last time a friend called you up and said, “remember when you offered to help with anything?” Unless you’re very specific, it generally doesn’t happen.
- Instead, make specific offers. Text them when you’re at the grocery store and ask what you can pick up and drop by. Call when you’re at the post office and ask if they need any stamps. Do they use a vehicle for getting to doctors, etc? Ask if you can run it to the gas station to fill it up so they don’t have to expend the energy.
- Keep asking. If the response you receive is often no, maybe another friend beat you to it. Don’t be overbearing, but don’t forget about them – simply checking if they need anything can mean the world.
What are some other ways we can show love?