All of you together are Christ's body and each of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27

“…some parts of the body that seem weakest and less important are actually the most necessary…so God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part in honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12 v 22-27 NLT)

WHO IS MISSING?

I might not often be physically present in a church service, but does that mean I’m no longer a part of the body of Christ? Has anyone noticed that I’m missing? I guess I am not the “big toe or opposable thumb” I thought I was, maybe I’m more of an appendix or a mole, since no one has noticed I’m not there, and no one is wondering why.

I thought people knew me and that I enjoyed welcome and worship and prayer and prophecy and giving and listening and laughing and crying with others in the body of Christ, the family. In my own self-obsessed way, I wanted to be missed…for there to be a “Shona-shaped hole” in the service!

When I could no longer make it to church or made it only to parts of services and couldn’t stay to socialize, I thought my lifelong church friends would realize I needed them and would ask how they could still be a part of my life and how I could still be a part of theirs. It turns out they were either all too busy to notice or remember…or they assumed, since I’d never been shy, that if I needed something I’d ask. As it happens, I hate asking for anything for myself and desperately wanted my friends to work out on their own that I needed them, or maybe everyone thought someone else was helping me?

I have suffered from moderate to severe M.E. (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) for four years. Before falling ill, I was active in various roles at church from kids’ programs and youth work to planning and running services to leading worship and a home group. I struggle with attending both an entire service and socializing before and after, because of the demand of noise, standing, singing, concentrating and responding to more than one person at a time, which means I’ve struggled to feel connected and a part of church life.

It’s been a lonely few years and I have felt forgotten by some of my good friends at church who just didn’t keep in touch when I am unable to be there.

Honestly? I’ve been deeply hurt, I’ve been angry, and I’ve felt rejected, alone and forgotten, so I’ve decided to address the challenges the church faces because of chronic illness.

I realized it was unlikely that I was deliberately forgotten. Maybe my church friends just needed a wee prompt to know how to continue to help, love and support those who are sick…basically Christian folk are good-hearted, caring and compassionate aren’t they?

CHRONIC ILLNESS SURVEY

So I developed a short survey, a chance for those with chronic illness to help their local church bodies know what we most need and how best to help. Early responses have shown:

  • Those who are ill are not ISOLATED by choice. We hate missing out! We are desperate to participate in the life of the church and to attend social functions. We miss serving!
  • We want to be INVOLVED and we have ideas about how we can do that by: recording our testimonies, adding more comfortable seating or a place to for us to lie down, planning a quieter service, giving plenty of advanced notice for social functions, organizing accessible, daytime activities, letting people know that it’s OK to attend just part of a service, adding Skype options for life groups or broadcasting a service live to closed Facebook groups.
  • Many of us only make it to church on “good days” and we often pay for the energy expended for days or even weeks afterward. Our limited energy can make even daily activities (ie: showering, cooking, cleaning, talking, reading, even watching TV) a struggle. Meeting for coffee is often considered relaxing down time, but for those of us with chronic illness, it can require more energy than we have to give.
  • For those of us who are single or living alone, the isolation can be even more challenging. Respondents indicated that it would help significantly to have a specific contact in the church to ring or text when things become so difficult that we aren’t unable to shop or we have no food in the house.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

We’d love to know! Take the SURVEY FOR INDIVIDUALS here.

There is also a short survey designed for church leaders. Find the SURVEY FOR CHURCHES here.

Consider sharing the surveys with those you know who have chronic illness, and with your pastor and church leaders.

This is your chance to be heard, and our chance to grow together, serve together, and love one another better. Together, we are the Body of Christ on earth, every single person necessary, valuable, and vital – without even one precious life the Body is incomplete!

Post photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Shona Smith

Shona Smith

Shona was born in County Down, Northern Ireland in the middle of The Troubles. She and her siblings grew up in the Kingdom of Mourne, where her parents crossed the divide between Catholics and Protestants in both business and friendships, raising their family to love their neighbors. Home was a place of safety and support for many.

Shona attended university in Manchester, England. She and her husband Dave have a large modern family of children, stepchildren and grandchildren, who call her “Granny Sho”. Shona is also a teacher of the deaf, a passionate advocate for her students and since developing M.E./CFS, for the chronic illness community as well. 

“My life was on pause,” Shona said. “Now I am just trying to make sense of this life-stealing, life-changing, hope-draining condition,  constantly reminded to look to my Savior, because when I do that, and glance down again, my feet are back on the Rock!”

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