For someone who has always enjoyed good health, the idea of trying to
help a person with a chronic health problem or disability that has lasted for many years
and that they know nothing about may seem a bit daunting. What should be done?
How can we sympathise with someone if we have never experienced their particular
problem? Will we cause offence by saying the wrong thing? These are natural concerns,
but should not put people off from trying!
The vast majority of the people with long-term health difficulties that I have come across
over the years would be absolutely delighted to have someone get in touch with them
and show some support and concern. If you don't know what to do or say, ask! If you
know that a person has a particular illness or disability do a bit of reading around on the
subject, look up support groups on the Internet, look out for leaflets in your local
doctors' surgery. The fact that you have shown an interest, learnt a little about the
problem and gone to the effort of getting in touch will be greatly appreciated and be a
real encouragement to the sufferer.
When ill, receiving a letter, phone call, email, or even a short visit from a fellow Christian
means such a lot - and I am sure that it is virtually impossible for those who are healthy
to realise how much doing just a little thing like writing a little note can mean, resulting
in many simply not bothering. However, I would urge you to bother, to go to the effort
of sending a card or email, making a phone call, dropping in for a visit (but do phone
first and don't stay for too long!); it means so much and is such a help and
However, saying that, do be careful. Don't start something that you can't keep up. It's
no good saying that you will call in once a week if you cannot do it in the long-term.
Chronic health problems are a “long haul”. Far better to visit once a month and be able
to stick at it over a number of months or years, than try calling every week only to find
that you can't keep it up and so have to stop after just a few weeks.
When visiting someone with long-term health problems it is likely that they will be, to a
greater or lesser extent, physically dependent on others to manage from day to day.
However it is important that the sufferer does not become spiritually dependent on any
particular person i.e. you mustn't become a “spiritual prop”! It is important to be there
to help them, but try to direct them to the Bible, to find their ultimate help and strength
from God and His Word.
One other thing to bear in mind is that the person you are trying to help may feel rather
useless due to their circumstances. They may have had to stop many of the things they
used to do at home, at work and in the church. Do suggest to them that they maintain
an interest in and pray for other people. Missionaries known to the church could be a
particular focus for their prayers. Writing letters or emails to those working abroad
(something that I have enjoyed doing for many years) can be encouraging on both
sides, as can helping others with the same health problem. Also remind them not to
underestimate what a powerful witness it can be to non-Christians to see someone
coping with a long-term illness. J C Ryle commented that it is possible for those who are
ill to "honour God as much by patient suffering as they can by active work. It often
shows more grace to sit still than it does to go to and fro, and perform great exploits".
Be Practical - try to think of things that you would find helpful if you were house-bound
or bed-bound. For example, offering to help with shopping, cooking meals, giving lifts to
doctors. and hospital appointments. If the person is well enough just offering to take
them out for a short drive is likely to be greatly appreciated. Going out even for a short
time can give a tremendous boost.
Be Spiritual - one of the hardest things that I have found, as a Christian, to cope with
during the years of ill-health is the lack of Christian fellowship due to not being able to
attend church very often. Listening to recordings of the ministry is to be recommended,
and a great help, but being cut off from your Christian family is very hard.
Be Encouraging - chronic ill-health is hard, especially in our society when we are used to
the idea that if any health problem arises we can simply go to the doctors and get a
prescription to make us better!
Being long-term sick means that it is easy to lose touch with what is going on in the “big
wide world”. Talk about normal things. Tell the person about your family, what's
happening at the church, any interesting places you've visited. Don't expect the sick
person to initiate the conversation, after all they may not have been anywhere or done
very much, meaning that it is not easy start talking. At the same time, give them time
to talk about whatever is on their mind.
You don't need to have experienced an illness in order to help and support someone with
it. Be honest. Admit that you don't know much. Most people with a long-term problem
know a lot about their condition and will be happy to fill you in on the details - probably
in far more detail than you actually need or want to know!
Be Forward Looking - it is always good to talk with those who are ill about Heaven!
Remember that this World is not our home, we are just a-passing through. Whether or
not we will be healed in this life is unknown, but in Heaven we will see our Saviour and
we will be free from sin and from suffering. “For the unbeliever, death is the end of all
joys; for the believer, death is the end of all griefs” (Matthew Henry). Always “looking
for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”
(Titus 2 v 13).
For yonder a light shines eternal
Which spreads through the valley of gloom;
Lord Jesus, resplendent and regal,
Drives fear far away from the tomb.
Our God is the end of the journey,
His pleasant and glorious domain;
For there are the children of mercy,
Who praise Him for Calvary's pain.
W V Higham (used by kind permission)
Hazel Stapleton, January 2012
On Eagles Wings