Christian Living


Ministering to the Chronically Ill

CBN.com - SAN DIEGO — In a recent survey of 611 chronically ill individuals done by the National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week committee, 53.27% of the respondents said that the most frustrating or annoying comment people make about their illness is “But you look so good!”

“Telling someone they look good is often seen as a compliment,” says Lisa Copen, founder of Rest Ministries, a Christian organization that serves the chronically ill and sponsors National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. “Unfortunately, it feels like an invalidation of the physical pain, seriousness of one’s illness, and the suffering they cope with daily.”

According to Copen, author of Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend, statistics show that nearly one in two people in the United States has a chronic condition and 96% of those cases are invisible. National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, September 10-16, 2007, is an outreach to increase awareness that living with an invisible illness can be an emotional challenge—as well as a physical challenge—and that more people than we would imagine are suffering silently.

Respondents answered the survey at www.invisibleillness.com and reported the following other annoying comments people tend to make:

  • “Your illness is caused by stress.” (14.22%)
  • “If you stopped thinking about it and went back to work…” (12.42%)
  • “You can’t be in that much pain. Maybe you just want attention.” (10.95%)
  • “Just pray harder.” (9.15%)

Carmen Leal, creator of SomeOne Cares Christian Caregiver Conference and author of The Twenty-Third Psalm for Caregivers, says, “When someone appears physically normal, people are less likely to show understanding and compassion. National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week is an important opportunity to help families, businesses, churches, and communities understand that conditions without an outward sign are just as debilitating as other more visible illnesses and disabilities.”

Copen, 38, who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia for 15 years agrees. “We know that 75% of marriages impacted by illness end in divorce, and 70% of suicides have uncontrollable physical pain as a factor.* There are hundreds of invisible illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s disease, as well as mental illness and conditions such as bulimia or migraines. Regardless of one’s illness or level of pain, feeling isolated and misunderstood can be emotionally devastating. We are each responsible for learning how to effectively show compassion and understanding to those we care about, including the chronically ill.”

National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week’s Web site has articles and resources, and will feature twenty-five online seminars during Sept 10-14, 2007. Guests include Maureen Pratt, author of Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain and Illness, and Jenni Prokopy, founder of ChronicBabe.com. Outreach materials include T-shirts, silicone awareness bracelets, and brochures appropriate for support groups or the workplace. They state helpful things to say and not say to a chronically ill person. The theme for 2007’s invisible illness week campaign is “Living with invisible illness is a roller coaster. Help a friend hold on!”

“We hope that by inviting people to a safe place where they can express their hurts and frustrations, and have them met with the love of the Lord, they will find a place that offers true comfort and hope for dealing with their illness,” says Copen.

Statistically, Rest Ministries is doing just this. They typically receive over 80,000 visitors per month to their Web site, but in just two months of having a MySpace site for Invisible Illness Week, 20,660 people have come to the Rest Ministries Web site directly from MySpace.

“There are a lot of people with illnesses who have a hole in their heart that only the Lord can fill,” says Copen. “We hope to guide them to His comfort.”

For more information, see http://www.invisibleillness.com or call 888-651-7378. Rest Ministries is an affiliate of Joni and Friends International Disability Center and publisher of various books for the chronically ill.

* Sources: National Health Interview Survey / Mackenzie TB, Popkin MK: "Suicide in the medical patient.” Intl J Psych in Med 17:3-22, 1987


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