I put my dog out late last night and saw a beautiful butterfly on the front porch. At night! I’ve only ever seen butterflies during the day. So it made me wonder, “Where do butterflies go at night?” Most of us take notice of things or people when they are right in front of us. But sadly, the old adage is true, “Out of sight, out of mind.” In the church we are pretty good at noticing people when they are right in front of us or when something unusual happens. A new baby. Here come the casseroles. A death. Here comes help to watch the kids or clean the house. But there is a whole group of people that are sometimes missed – people who are chronically ill.
People with chronic illnesses can simply be overlooked. They are sometimes people with invisible diseases so it can easily slip your mind that they are suffering in some way – emotionally, physically, or mentally. When they were first diagnosed it got your attention – like the colorful butterfly on the flower. You gave sincere love, compassion, and comfort. But as time goes by, it’s like the nighttime. You rarely see the butterfly anymore. They aren’t at church regularly. They always seem to miss the Bible study meetings. So over time, they are forgotten.
Did you know that chronically ill Christians who have struggled, sometimes for years, often have a very close walk with the Lord? They have become so lonely that they reach out to God and He has indeed become their closest friend. Often their faith can encourage your faith as you see how they trust the Lord in the midst of severe pain and loss. The truth is, you would be blessed to spend time with them. However, they have often been forgotten. In even a small congregation they are overlooked. They have fallen off the radar. No one is asking where the butterfly has gone!
I have experienced this myself. I have four chronic illnesses – Degenerative Disc Disease and Fibromyalgia have caused pain and daily headaches for 25 years, Lichen Sclerosus (a deforming skin disease) for 12 years, and Lymphoma for two years – and they will only get worse. How I yearn to answer the phone and have someone say, “I was thinking of you today and wanted to know how you were coping? How can I pray for you?” But sadly, that hasn’t happened for a very long time.
The night I saw the butterfly, I stood still for a long time with all of these thoughts running through my mind. I really don’t blame anyone for forgetting me. I would have done the exact same thing years ago when my life was full, energy was high, and my lingering daily thought was not, “How can I just make it through today?”
As a chronically ill person, my world has gotten very small. I usually only travel about 20 minutes from home. I do the same things almost every day. This is how we cope. We are in pain and can’t always reach out. I encourage you to look around and think of someone, a butterfly who used to be visible. Someone who may look okay on the outside, but is at home hurting every day. Give them a call. Reach out to someone with a chronic illness – I think you will both be blessed.
1 Corinthians 1:2 says, “I praise you for remembering me…”
By the way, I’m the pastor’s wife.
Barbara Coleman is a ministry wife serving alongside her husband Mike for over 45 years. In the past, she has led Bible studies and been a women’s retreat speaker. Now she spends her time painting. Barbara has three grown sons and six grandchildren. She lives in Bowie, MD.