I want to say thank you to all of you who desire to encourage others with chronic illness! Living with EI, or any illness, is a continual battle against discouragement. Your show of love and support enables us to keep going. Thank you!
Last week I shared the "Don'ts" of how to express love and support. (If you missed last week's post, you can read Part 1 here.) Now here's a list of some helpful "Do's."
1) Do give GRACE.
Regardless of your opinions or understanding of their situation, show grace by accepting the person exactly where they are. Forgive quickly. See the best in them. Love unconditionally. Listen, even if you don't understand.
A simple definition for grace is undeserved kindness. Most people living with chronic illness struggle with feelings of condemnation, inadequacy, or guilt. When you demonstrate grace, it helps them see more of God's grace toward them. You can be a powerful instrument in God's hands to help them experience God's grace more and more!
2) Do communicate with them in a way that works for them.
This could be through texting, emailing, calling, FB, letters, etc.
Some of my EI friends don't even own computers because of the EMF's. But they can handle short phone calls. Or with others, I write a letter on plain paper, using pencil, and then wrap it in aluminum foil to mail (to shield it from smells in transit). Other friends prefer to text or use FB.
Ask the person what works best for them, then use that mode of communication. Honor them by respecting their needs and limits.
3) Do be sensitive, ask them what they need from you, and pray for wisdom in how to best encourage them.
Sometimes when a friend would call me, I didn't want to talk about my life. Instead I wanted to hear about all their adventures and the good things in their life. Other days I really needed someone to listen as I poured out all the craziness and hardship I was going through.
It's ok to ask the person, "Do you want to talk about your situation? Or do you want me to just tell you funny stories about my kids?"
Also, when trying to encourage, you need a balance of being a good listener with also not letting them go on and on about negative symptoms.
There's a time to let the person unburden their heart. In those moments you can simply listen and say "I love you, and I'll keep praying for you."
Then there are times when it's better to redirect the conversation away from negative thoughts to God's faithfulness or a positive topic. With chronic illness it's easy to continually rehearse physical symptoms or general complaints. Sometimes we need a friend to gently direct us to thanksgiving, trust, and praise.
Only God can guide you in how to be sensitive and what to say in each situation. But hopefully being aware of these needs will help you as you converse with others.
4) Do be thoughtful about gift-giving.
With chronic illness comes feelings of isolation, being forgotten, missing out, etc. Receiving a thoughtful gift from someone can make a huge difference!
However, especially for those with EI, gift-giving can be tricky. For a few years basically the only gifts I could receive were CD's or DVD's. I couldn't even read books for a while because of being sensitive to paper. And any product made in China caused serious reactions for me.
If you don't know what products the person can tolerate, then just ask. It's better to ask what they like and can use, than to try to send a "surprise" gift and cause them to have a reaction.
Also, gift cards are a wonderful option. To an EI person, a gift card is not "impersonal" - it's a treasure! Most of us have limited finances, so a gift card to Wal-mart, Amazon.com, NEEDS.com, or some other practical store is always appreciated.
For those not having EI, think about what they like and what kind of gifts will uplift them - perhaps a Christian fiction book, a funny movie, a beautiful journal they can write in, etc. It doesn't need to be expensive or elaborate. Small gifts are wonderful if there is thoughtfulness behind them.
Ask God what gift would be best for the person. He will guide you in finding ways to encourage and bless them through thoughtful gifts (especially on holidays or birthdays as they are rough times for those who are ill). And I can tell you from experience how meaningful it is to receive a thoughtful gift in the midst of the daily struggles!
5) Do recognize that God can still use the person for His glory.
Chronic illness does not mean useless.
One of my EI friends is a talented artist. When she has a little energy, she often makes cards for people out of her drawings. Another EI friend is a faithful prayer warrior for many people. Another one likes to write songs.
Even with drastic limitations, God can still empower people to do good things. Obviously productivity doesn't equal value. And even a thankful heart glorifies God. But if you see God at work in a specific way through the person, praise Him for it! And encourage them about what God can do through their life, even in their illness. (Many people encouraged me to keep writing during my illness, and God has brought much fruit from it.)
6) Do pray for them.
Yes, keep praying for their healing! God is able and we can continually ask Him to heal.
But also pray for the person to develop greater intimacy with Jesus through suffering.
Pray for inner strength, courage, peace, and joy in the midst of their trial.
Pray that God's Word will come alive to them like never before.
Pray that their faith will grow and that God will empower them to praise Him in the storm.
Pray for God to bring eternal fruit from their pain.
When I consider all the blessings God has given me through my health trial, I know it's because so many people were praying for me. And they didn't only pray for my healing - they prayed for so much more! I have received incredible answers to those prayers in spiritual growth, a closer relationship with Jesus, greater love for God's Word, fruitfulness in ministry, and much more!
Through prayer we have the opportunity to invest in the lives of others and be part of God's divine work in this world. Even though praying for those who are ill may not seem like a world-changing effort, you never know what God will do in each life! Everything we do matters, and prayer matters most of all.
Well, I hope these tips are helpful for you. As you can see, showing love and support to those with chronic illness requires effort, getting to know the person and their needs, and relying on God's strength. But it's also a wonderful opportunity to be an expression of the love and grace of Jesus Himself. May we be His tangible presence in this hurting world.