Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ministry to the Chronically Ill

As was made obvious to me yet again from a short telephone conversation yesterday, the chronically ill are often chronically misunderstood and chronically lonely. Why is this and what can be done about it?

First, many do not understand the unique ravages of diseases that neither kill nor heal (apart from God's intervention). I speak of chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, lupus (although complications from this can be fatal), chemical and environmental sensitivities, and (sadly) more. Those who so suffer may not always look ill; they are not disfigured or depending on wheel chairs, necessarily. Thus, they often fail to solicit sympathy, given that people judge by mere appearance and do not attend to the words of those sore afflicted. This lack of sympathy can translate into outright cruelty when people infer that the chronically ill are not really that bad off, that they should just "buck up" or that "it is all in your head."

There is a simple solution to this problem, but it requires a sacrifice: Listen to the wounded, really hear what they are saying and why. Do not prejudge their words because they do not resonate with your experience. The world is more wounded than you life may know, so, for God's sake, listen. The walking wounded are among "the least of these" who Jesus tells us to care for as both a duty and privilege. If you do not understand the condition or situation, keep listening and ask real questions.

Second, even if some understanding is reached, many shrink back from helping in any concrete way. "I'll pray for you," we may say, but do we do so in any consistent way (see Luke 18:1-8)? The chronically ill do not have short term illnesses. Those are easier to minister unto: you simply bring over meals, do housework, take people to the doctors, and so on--knowing that the duration is limited: the broken leg or arm will heal, the operation will be recovered from. Chronic illness has no limited duration. Nor is it a death sentence, but a life sentence (should God not intervene). In a way, terminal illness is easier to cope with: there is a finish line. Chronic illness, is, well, chronic--interminable and often unbearable. Ministering to these folks requires patience and kindness. It requires the creative love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It requires an infusion of grace from the Holy Spirit to reach out to those who may not be able to "pay back" your efforts, those who are not cheerful after years of pain and crushed dreams, those who are weary and skeptical of real help after so many have faded out so quickly.

There are no easy answers on how to help the chronically ill, even if you have fathomed something of their fate. But one can put oneself in their shoes, in their compromised bodies through sympathetic imagination. Then one may contribute acts of kindness, no matter how small, to help alleviate the loneliness and frustrations. It may simply be a phone call or an email to provide fellowship and alleviate loneliness. Most importantly, ask the ill person what she or he needs. It may be other than you think. They probably know better than you do, so please consult them! And if you tell them you will pray for them, do so earnestly and seriously (1 Thes. 5:17). Otherwise, your words are empty.

The chronically ill in our midst want and need to heard and helped. Ask God to make you a listening ear and a helping hand.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prayers for the Sick

Let me offer these beautiful and biblical prayers from The Book of Common Prayer to my readers who struggle with chronic, acute, and even terminal illnesses. Notice that they call out to God for healing (they are not fatalistic), but they also ask for grace through the process.

Prayers for the Sick

For a Sick Person

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Recovery from Sickness
O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your servant N. the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

O God of heavenly powers, by the might of your command you drive away from our bodies all sickness and all infirmity: Be present in your goodness with your servant N., that his weakness may be banished and his strength restored; and that, his health being renewed, he may bless your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.