This is not helpful

One thing that I have noticed is that when you are a person of faith who also has a chronic illness people aren’t quite sure what to say to you.

First some people can’t reconcile the fact that you even have a chronic illness. This is not a new problem. There is a story in the Bible where the people who were closest to Jesus asked Him why a man had been blind since birth.

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
~John 9:2

You’d think that in 2000 years, people would change. Nope. I definitely have had people ask me similar questions.

There are two other passages that people often use when they are trying to help people deal with difficult circumstances. I believe them both to be absolutely true but absolutely not what the person needs to hear when they are struggling.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
~Romans 8:28

I know that any challenge that I experience in my life will ultimately serve a greater purpose. But that purpose may not be clear to me for many years, or I may never understand. That doesn’t provide much comfort in the midst of a challenge.

Other times people like to remind folks like me of probably the most misinterpreted verse in the Bible (seriously, how many letterman’s jackets did you see this on in high school?!)

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
~Philippians 4:13

There’s only one problem with the way this verse is used in this situation, and really in most of the other situations where people love to quote it. The guy who said it was actually talking about being content in every situation, not overcoming or changing his situation. This is the verse right before.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

At this point, I feel like I should offer advice about what a person of faith should say that would be helpful to someone dealing with a chronic condition. I really don’t have any.

The best thing you can do is listen and try to understand. View that person as a unique individual and ask them more about their personal experiences. I can guarantee you that the other person does not want to hear a perfect answer; they just want to be understood.

Am I the only one who has been subjected to unhelpful advice from well-meaning friends, or has anyone else experienced something similar?


  • I found this interesting on many, many levels. And I’m choosing to comment unrelated to my diabetes.

    My father was a pastor who battled aggressive cancer for over four years before he passed away. His cancer was a shock to many in the church, and raised a lot of questions, mainly: How can he still preach about a faithful and loving God when he’s suffering from cancer? Why did God let one of his faithful servants get this horrible disease?

    As far as I’m concerned, there are no simple explanations for why people of faith end up with chronic conditions. I could name people who looked at my father’s continued ministry while undergoing cancer treatment and thought, “If he can trust God through all of that, I can handle the crap in my own life.”

    I know that I’m now taking better care of the wonderful body God gave me because of diabetes. These are often the situations where scripture need not be quoted as comfort, but a simply praying for and listening to the person are the best places to start.

  • You’re most certainly not the only one…I always struggle with what to say to whoever made comments, or quoted scripture-no matter how perfect the verse seems to fit (in their minds) it is usually not as helpful as they want it to be in that moment…and then there is healing…oh let’s not even go there… 😀

  • It’s interesting how so many individuals can pick and choose Bible verses, misinterpreting them or quoting out of context to fit whatever their point may be. I’m not a person of significant faith or anything, but I completely agree with you that it’s not our timing that we’re on and having to navigate whatever chronic illness or challenges come our way.

    One of the passages we have in our home is Matthew 17:20, about anything being possible with faith. Not that I can move mountains, “or find success” or “get perfect BGs,” but that I can do my best and go through what I need to go through in order to be where I’m supposed to. That is one I think runs parallel to the passage you mentioned.

    But Matthew is one of my favorite “interpretive instructive” books, and I go back to 5:17-20 quite a bit myself – including what you’re writing about, in respecting the point of faith and not just being able to tell others what you think it is.

    I like how you’ve wrapped up your post, with how we’re basically just looking for that understanding and not a “perfect answer.” Goes back to the passage, about too many people just missing the point. I’ve been working to step back when I face those situations, just thanking them for the thought and trying to move on without getting all stressed out about it. Because that really just doesn’t do anyone any good and takes away from more enjoyable (and important) parts of life.

    Thanks for this, Sara.

  • Forgive me for saying this, but I think people who wonder out loud — to your face — whether diabetes was visited on you because of some past sin really need to go back and start all over with their faith. I think, when it comes to any illness or bad thing, people want straight, easily understandable answers, and just because you believe in God doesn’t mean they’re going to appear out of nowhere; it’s all still far from black and white.

    Yes, I have diabetes, which sucks. You know what else I have? Access to insulin and life-sustaining technology, tons of supportive people in my life, freedom from a lot of other terrible things in life (knock wood), and a brand-new meter case. To focus exclusively on the suckiness of diabetes while ignoring all those other gifts is not a good way to look at the world, or at God’s role in it, in my little opinion.

  • I get scripture pulled out of context and quoted to me a lot. And it’s not just because of diabetes, it’s about everything I go through. I also get a lot of “Where is your god when” and “How can you trust a god that allows you to be deformed by cancer?” The scriptures only bother me if they are used in a way to say that I have sinned or I lack faith. Otherwise I just understand that they are at least trying to wrap their mind around it. The questions really upset me. For me, this is the road home. It’s not the one I would have chosen, but it is the one that God is guiding me down. Yes, I do still believe in His love and his goodness. Everything I have been through convinces me of it.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this Sara! Like Rachel I had very similar experiences with people of faith when my mom got sick. People want so desperately to say the right thing, say something helpful, but it often comes out so wrong. Your suggestion to talk less and listen more is the best one I have heard. It has been a hard lesson for me, before my mom got sick I think I was more often then one that gave the unhelpful advice. God has taught me a lot about letting go of the need to trying to say the right thing and instead just be there to love and listen.

  • Pretty sure we weren’t promised life would be easy, but that He would walk with us through whatever trails we face.
    My dad had brain cancer and I remember wanting to punch one of his pastors when he wondered out loud how ‘this’ could happen to such a ‘good person.’ SERIOUSLY!?! Like being ‘good’ protects us from anything ‘bad’ in life?
    A listening ear, a shoulder to cry on…that’s what we need sometimes. Yes, the Bible has some wonderful things and my life is built upon them, but sometimes there just needs to be quiet understanding, not ‘let’s see how many verses we can throw at this problem.’
    I do remember using the ‘works everything for good’ verse with Bean a couple of weeks after her dx. She was struggling, big time, and needed something ‘good’ she could focus on. So, I helped her focus on the ‘good’ that D had brought her already…a new friend, horseback riding lessons (given by a teen w T1, otherwise she NEVER would have gotten on a horse at 6 1/2!!) It helped her understand that God can use things we don’t want to bring things that are good.

    Oh, and on the healing thing….sure, I believe God can heal anything. However, I don’t believe that that is always the ‘best’ outcome and isn’t always in His master plan. As much as I would LOVE for Bean to be healed, I know that there are so many wonderful things God can do through her because of D and I think that’s part of His plan for her.

    …wow…that was long! 🙂

  • God loves me… I don’t know that I need much more than that. Understanding everything would be nice, but I just try to be grateful and remember those less fortunate. Who maybe need His help more than I do. Thanks for sharing.

  • I most often get told, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” I think no matter what the situation, we have to handle it. Good or bad…we are handling it no matter what! I know I CAN handle everything, but man, I don’t want to! And it is sooo hard! (Rant over.)

    I’m one of those people that believe that sore trials either bring us closer to God, or farther away from Him. It is our choice which direction we take…right now I’m clinging to Him for dear life. Laying it all at His feet is getting me through these days. I get scriptures sent to me all the time, and I know they are sent from people that just want to say something to make it all better. More than anything…I just need a hug. But since so many of my friends live so far away, I’ll take their scripture as a virtual hug and know they are only saying it to try to ease my heart. (Even if it my heart IS handling it.)

  • as a non-religious person, I found this post very interesting. I found the comments that followed even more interesting.
    Kind of a thought-provoking topic.

  • in terms of diabetes/other struggles, when people are kind to me i experience that as the grace of god. however, if someone quoted scripture to me, i would experience that as a human being being a total douche bag.

  • of course others have gone through this, i would be surprised if someone in our community said they hadn’t!

    i recently read this moving article:

    and this passage in particular i felt could help me deal with comments like you’ve mentioned:

    When people ask, “How are you not exploding with stress with everything on your plate?”, I know they only mean it in the best, most compassionate way. And for those who have beautiful healthy children and gleaming new stoves, I do not discount their heartaches and worries and crises.

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