There are endless lists available of What Not To Say to the chronically ill. We’ve heard it all, we’ve done it all, and it’s really not helping. Feel free to browse them sometime and see if you might need to change your tune. However, I try to avoid fixating on these because we all have done and said insensitive things to people, and we will all continue to make mistakes as long as we’re dealing with people who are different than ourselves, in situations different from our own. I encourage us all to be aware and be better.
However, there’s one phrase that can wound so deeply on a personal, spiritual, and theological level, that I feel it must be addressed.
“God is going to heal you.”
Friend, if you have been given the gift of prophecy and hear the voice of God, don’t let me stop you from doing His will. But I must say that I have never heard these words from a spiritually mature person who proceeded to counsel me in the ways of the Almighty.
Though well-intentioned, this phrase is insensitive, naive, and shows a great lack of spiritual growth. I’m sure you can find entire books and sermons that will explain it better than I, but to make it brief: God’s thoughts are higher than ours. He is always good, but His goodness can hurt like hell. Our souls are refined much like iron (or clay) – by being thrown into a burning furnace then smote with deathly blows from a hammer. You can tell me God loves me, but you cannot tell me that it’s always going to feel good, physically or mentally. If you want to speak truth, you’d have to say, “God is going to heal you, but it probably won’t happen until you die and go to heaven.” Not so comforting, is it? Do not offer such hefty words in the name of God unless you are prepared to spiritually disciple the person you are saying them to. Otherwise you risk breaking Commandment #3 and destroying the delicate faith of a chronically ill person.
People used to tell Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who was left quadriplegic after a diving accident as a teenager, that it was God’s will to heal her if she had enough faith. She did, He didn’t. In fact, He gave her stage 3 breast cancer.
You might take issue with saying, “God gave her breast cancer.” You’ll say “God doesn’t cause cancer, He only allows it.” I dare to say that God does give cancer. The Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” What better and more perfect gift is there than showing you the truth of His grace, being taken off the wearisome treadmill of life, and being called to lean solely on Him and His out-of-this-world love? Joni says, “Nothing could be more heavenly than finding Jesus in the middle of your hell.” She expresses sincere gratitude to God for not healing her. It cleanses sin, it refocuses our worldly gaze, it gives us a higher purpose in this mortal life.
This is an amazing speech; I cannot recommend it enough.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
1 Peter 4:1-2
Also be careful with: “I’m praying for a quick recovery.”
By all means, intercede on our behalf. However, for the same reasons listed above, prayers for immediate healing is not always the most comforting. This phrase actually becomes more and more hurtful the longer our disease continues.
First, such a nonchalant comment gives us the feeling that you don’t understand what we’re facing. Lyme-MSIDS has no cure. We call resolution of symptoms remission, not a cure, because they very often come back years later. Maintaining health is a constant undertaking. For the rest of our lives, we must proceed with caution. The window for “quick healing” closed a long time ago.
Second – and this goes for both phrases – it can bestow shame upon the sick as it weakens the faith of all. If you are praying, and God is not answering, who are you going to blame? Usually the patient, for not having enough faith, for not listening to “real” doctors’ advice, for not treating the right way, for taking too many pills, for not taking enough pills, for not seeing a therapist, for many horrible reasons we have actually heard come out of Christians’ mouths. In the rare reflexive case that a person starts to question their relationship with God instead, it makes our health crisis to blame for your failing faith. See the above video, and start reading your Bible. Do not use us as your proof that God is not good, or doesn’t exist.
What to say instead
These are general suggestions. Each and every individual is in a different place of their illness, of their healing, of their faith journey. Not everyone is going to appreciate the following words; you must be sensitive - show that by asking forgiveness if you say the wrong thing. The best thing you can do is get to know them, and find out from their own lips what they need to hear.
To a person of faith:
“I will pray God teaches you great things through this battle.”
“I will pray for His sustaining grace to hold you up every day.”
“I am praying for His new mercies every morning.”
To a non-religious person:
“I’m sorry, I can’t imagine what this feels like.”
“Tell me about your journey.”
“What do people misunderstand about your illness?”
If you’ve been there:
Share the comforting mindsets that helped you, rather than treatment protocols, unless asked.
If you haven’t been there:
Read the articles we post.
Read the books we recommend.
Watch the videos we share.
Show us you’ve at least tried to understand this.
Like I said, I am guilty with the rest of you of using the wrong filter (or none at all) when confronted with a health crisis I don't understand in an attempt to make it better. I think a lot of it actually comes with PTSD and trying to save people from the mistakes I made and the suffering I've had to endure. Let us be tenderhearted and forgiving.
Miserable comforters, be silent!