As a part of the Joni and Friends’ Response team, I always appreciate it when people share their experiences and needs with me. Our team regularly talks with people who are in constant pain. Sadly, ongoing pain is one of the most common reasons people reach out to our ministry for resources and support. Friend, if you find yourself in a family relationship, friendship, or marriage to someone who deals with chronic pain, we hope the following suggestions will help you comfort and encourage them.
- Remember only Jesus can completely understand the depths of their pain. Just as Joni Eareckson Tada shares with those in pain, we hope you will lovingly share the encouragement found in Hebrews 4:15-16. Jesus can sympathize with their weaknesses, loneliness, discouragement, or temptation. God knows and cares about the intimate details of what they face each day. And He promises mercy and help.
- Seek to understand more about your friend’s pain. People with chronic pain may not “look” disabled. This may seem obvious, but a hurtful part of having an “invisible disability” is that the person may appear fine, leading others to assume that their pain is only a figment of their imagination. Many with chronic pain experience spiritual, emotional, and physical struggles each day. As a friend, it’s helpful to understand that pain can easily rob someone of focus, peace of mind, and the ability to simply function—it is a significant disability, but is almost always invisible.
- Include your friend in various conversations or activities to prevent the darkness of isolation. Isolation and stress can breed increased levels of pain. It’s natural for many with chronic pain to feel like no one understands, to fear the pain may never lift, and to become overwhelmed by the stress caused by these thoughts. As wisdom and common sense allow, draw close to your friend and give them the freedom to share about their hardship. Ask questions and find out what may be helpful in various situations. Invite them to participate with you in activities you both enjoy, within reason, so that your friend knows you care. Sometimes being together and out of the house can provide a different focus. In fact, support groups could be a big part of the answer for your loved one. It’s good to know there are others who understand—who will listen. Interaction in support groups does not alleviate suffering, but it can encourage your loved one to focus on others who are also suffering. There are many online communities of individuals with chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities. On days when your friend feels alone, they can speak with others who understand and help put the focus on Christ. By walking with others along the same path, they can learn how to share heartaches.
- Offer advice sparingly and instead, pray. If you’re anything like me, you love offering your opinion and trying to be helpful by giving advice! Resist the urge to give advice unless asked, and then commit to praying for your friend. Pray the Lord’s presence would comfort and strengthen your friend, and pray for God’s wisdom as your friend seeks treatment and pain management. Pray for miraculous relief! Ask the Lord to use this ongoing trial to perfect their faith and deepen their love and devotion for Christ. And pray, if the pain persists, that their thoughts would focus on the promise of God’s moment-by-moment grace and the eternal hope of heaven.
May the Lord give you great joy and perseverance as you love your friend with chronic pain. Although there may be dark and daunting days, continue to ask for God’s help and guidance as you support your loved one.
Crystal Keating serves with the Response Department at Joni and Friends, providing encouragement and practical resources for people affected by disability. She has advocated for true life in Christ to women with unwanted pregnancies, homeless families, and neglected children since 2000. She is also a graduate student, studying marriage and family counseling.