The Restoring Community

The church’s healing role in a hurting body

by Xochitl E. Dixon

With stabbing pain in my upper back, I pressed my face into my pillow and sobbed. A cool breeze from the open living room window brushed over my knotted trapezius muscles and stiff neck. Housebound. Alone. Hurting. The chatter of birds in our yard joined the rhythm of throbs against my temple as a headache pounded its way into day three. Help me, Lord. I can’t take this pain anymore.

The despair crouched in a dark corner of my mind shocked and scared me. Afraid of being devoured by depression again, I whispered pleas for forgiveness and mercy. As I prayed, I remembered Harold—a gentleman who perseveres through intense, constant pain as he cares for his aging wife. He’d contacted me after reading a few of my blog posts about how God carries me through my toughest days.

As I wept, I began to pray for others plagued by chronic pain and illness, others who were housebound, others who felt utterly alone and misunderstood like me. When Shelly’s MS symptoms ease up and energy increases a bit, she’s ready to serve in prison ministries. Hank spreads the love of Christ and passes out Bibles, his contagious joy overshadowing the heavy limp that reveals his constant hurting. Cheryl battles excruciating muscle spasms as she proclaims the name of Jesus boldly and prays for others diligently on social media. Dave leads the food ministry, often wearing braces to support his weakening legs. After multiple strokes diminished her speech and motor skills, Lynda still prays for people and scribbles inspiring notes to others, including me.

God uses these warriors to supply me with genuine support when being stuck at home pushes me to the edge of my tolerance. His people reach through the computer screen from all across the world, some incredibly faithful in daily prayer and others committed to interceding upon request. They understand the challenges of life while enduring chronic pain.

After giving me time to process my emotions, God comforts my weary heart and helps me sniff away the self-pity. I accept my moments of weakness as passing moments. I thank God for including me in this group of overcomers and intercessors empowered and sustained by the Spirit.

Though my dips into discouragement have lessened, they still serve as red flags warning me when I allow pain to consume my thoughts. My mini-meltdowns have proven vital to my healing journey. After experiencing a sense of utter hopelessness, I can count on God to revitalize me with peace that transcends all understanding. Confessing my needs and total dependence on the Lord opens the door for conversations with others who suffer from chronic pain and illness. Those who watch God’s faithfulness in my life can grow to trust God in their own situations, too.

Prayers and Purpose

Inspired by the strengthening power of raw honesty, my prayers have changed to reflect the heart-cries of the psalmists. Pain can restrict me physically but will never limit the reach of my mighty and merciful Great Physician. On the days this truth evades me, God connects me with others who can empathize with my suffering. Though our bonding through prayer proves helpful, it’s often obvious that something is missing…
physical connection.

Alone for hours each day, I doubt my purpose for existence, my value as a person, and my role as a member of God’s beloved church. Resentment trickles into critical thoughts. I miss services week after week, and only a handful of people reach out with an occasional call or text. Promised visits are never scheduled. I-miss-you-greetings fall on my deaf ears when I manage to join my church family for community worship. If they cared, they’d reach out. They wouldn’t forget about me just because they don’t see me every week.

My husband reminds me that I don’t always look sick. I smile. I laugh. I praise God.

I know my unreasonable expectations taint my view of the church, but knowing doesn’t stop my griping about feeling unloved. When I’ve begged my spouse to consider switching churches, I failed to appreciate his wisdom and compassion while I wrestled with my bitterness. Refusing to fuel my critical spirit, he comforts me and asks how I want the church to help me.

How could anyone help me when I don’t even know what I need?

Psalm 139 affirms only God truly knows and understands me (vv. 1–2). God is familiar with my ways, with my personality now and before I’d allowed pain to become a defining force of my identity (v. 3). God isn’t surprised by my thoughts or my attitude when frustration interferes with my faith walk (v. 4). Though I often feel alone, God sustains me (v. 5). My mighty and merciful Maker was and is and always will be bigger than any obstacle I’ll ever face (vv. 6–12). God ordains every second of every day and determines to use every moment to prepare me for all God has planned for me and for the church as a whole (vv. 13–18).

The first enemy I face each day is my own prideful stubbornness. Accepting my body’s limitations doesn’t mean I’ve given up on God’s healing power. Relying on the Lord gives others opportunities to witness God’s grace in action. Asking for and accepting help blesses me and those who serve in various roles within the whole body of Christ—the interdependent church. I fight a lose-lose battle against uselessness, insecurity, discouragement, anger, grief, and self-pity until I surrender and focus on God’s unchanging character and proven faithfulness in the Bible and in my life.

As I commune with the Lord through prayerful study of Scripture, God strengthens my resolve with divine ongoing presence. God refreshes my weary heart with eternal, hope-filled promises. Creating a better balance of mind, body, and spirit, God rekindles my long-lost dreams and helps me further develop my armchair ministry. I share more intentionally and transparently about my healing journey through freelance writing and recalling the value of small touches. If I’ve been encouraged through cards in my mailbox, thoughtful texts, positive online posts, and heartfelt prayers, I could minister to others in the same way without even leaving my recliner.

Recounting God’s abilities and faithfulness through intercessory prayer increases my gratitude and anchors my faith in truth instead of in my unpredictable bouts with pain. When sorrow seeps into my days, I call in prayer reinforcements instead of isolating myself. I’m growing in compassion and beginning to understand how others who care for me feel. I repent, ask the Lord to forgive me for my negativity, and begin searching for the answers I need.

Community and Care

What can the church do to better understand and serve members who suffer from chronic pain and illness?

  1. Create awareness. Educating the congregation helps members be more mindful of those who are suffering from ongoing pain. We can avoid hurtful interactions by teaching members how to offer loving prayers and encouraging support instead of medical advice or criticism. 
  2. Establish accountability. A diligent team of greeters, ushers, deacons, or a hospitality group can reach out to those who miss consecutive Sundays.
  3. Organize a Helping Hands ministry. With one team leader serving as a liaison to mobilize volunteers and assess changing needs, a team can provide help with meals, housecleaning, and landscaping. Members can run errands, offer babysitting, and send cards of encouragement, too.
  4. Offer specific help. Instead of relying on being asked to help, suggest a plan and complete specific tasks. This approach creates a safe zone for those who need assistance but don’t want to risk rejection or feel like a burden.
  5. Affirm the usefulness of each member of the body of Christ. Serving others helps keep our eyes steadfast on God instead of our suffering, but missing church means missing announcements, events, and service opportunities. Inviting good stewards to serve from home or providing a good website with updated information and weekly email blasts can help housebound members stay connected.
  6. Be flexible and extend grace. A good day with low pain levels and adequate rest can morph into a crummy day within minutes. Knowing volunteers are expecting to be flexible and understanding can help ease the stress and guilt of having to cancel at the last minute. Providing assurance of grace during planning and calling to confirm plans prior to the meeting time can alleviate anxiety and make the possibility of an outing a positive experience.

While every person has different limitations, when housebound members participate in ministry the whole body of Christ benefits, and the widening gap that threatens to isolate members who suffer from chronic pain or illness is narrowed. Staying connected and nurturing genuine relationships require commitment, sacrifice, and work from all involved. But as we look beyond ourselves, we can affirm those who feel forgotten, useless, and helpless due to physical limitations.

Our Maker and Sustainer empowers us to love God and each other, just because we belong to God, not because of how much we can accomplish or contribute. In God’s beautifully diverse family, physical limitations caused by chronic pain or illness don’t have to determine our value as people or hinder our ability to be treasured members of the body of Christ. By expressing mutual love and respect while including those who may not be able to participate physically in the ministries of the church, we can all experience the restoring power of community and begin to understand the church’s healing role in a hurting body.

Tagged under:

Share on: