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How to pray with the long-term sick

When you’re ill for a long time, you get a lot of people offering to pray with you and for you. It can be both a privilege and a burden, a blessing and a strain.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I’m so thankful for people’s desire to help, and I remain fully convinced that God heals today – I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it in others. And yet it can become so exhausting when I am prayed with again, and yet again I stay sick. I feel as if I disappoint whoever is with me, and so it becomes even more of a load on me. Sometimes I hide away from prayer altogether, reluctant to open myself up to the sheer discouragement and fatigue that follows. And that’s OK.

In my book I described a time when someone forced prayer on me which I didn’t ask for, and I know that many sick and disabled people experience this kind of thing again and again. It can feel like we become a kind of ‘target’ for healing prayer, and so often the person we are and the needs we have become swept aside in the focus on that one target: to get us fixed. To get us whole. And I wonder if that focus is rather skewed. I think it comes from a good place, but when there is a failure to consider the person, then something is wrong.

I’d like to consider how Jesus treated people he was healing to get a handle on this. Have a look at this passage:

43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.45 ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’

46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’

47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’ (Luke 8:43-38)

What immediately strikes me about this is that Jesus cares about the person more than the power. He knows healing has happened, he’s felt the power, but he doesn’t stop at that. The healing isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, the ultimate solution, the endgame. Jesus could have made much of it, making it about his own power, but instead he stopped, at a time when others really didn’t want him to – on the way to a sick girl who would die at any moment. He stopped to make time for a woman who’d lived in pain and shame for twelve years. He stopped to acknowledge her, to acclaim her and to call her ‘Daughter’. He stopped to consider who she was and what she needed, and gave her a new status in a society where she would have been shunned for her illness.

I think this gives us a model for praying with those who are afflicted by long-term sickness. Instead of making it about the problem, we make it about the person. We invite them to be noticed. We assure them of their place as a beloved child of God. We honour them and we spend time with them, even when we have no time and everything else is clamouring for us. And we pray peace upon them.

When people are struggling with long term issues, they might appreciate more than anything else people who will simply ‘be’ with them on the journey. I’ve been in so many situations where people try and find solutions for me – both practically and spiritually – and I’m somehow left feeling lesser, like I haven’t been listened to. Yet when friends sit with me, holding my hand, it’s such great consolation to me. It reminds me of God, who is always sat with me, his hand holding mine – and instead of shouting solutions, whispering words of love. Words like ‘daughter’ and ‘go in peace’.

It reminds me of God, who is always sat with me, his hand holding mine – and instead of shouting solutions, whispering words of love. Words like ‘daughter’ and ‘go in peace’.

So here are my suggestions for praying with the chronically ill:

  1. Take time: Jesus stopped to acknowledge and encourage.
  2. Ask what the sick person would like you to pray for today: Just because they are ill, doesn’t mean they will want you to pray for healing of the illness. They might want prayer for peace, or strength, or for a situation at work. Remember that there is more in their life than the sickness or disability.
  3. Don’t assume all ill and disabled people want to ‘get better’ or ‘become whole’: For me as a person with a painful condition, I would love to be healed, but there are many people who feel that their disabilities are a valued and worthful part of who they are, and this should be honoured. Who are we to say what ‘whole’ should look like, or what healing needs to be? Ask them what they want. In the passage, the women knew what she wanted and went for it, and Jesus still focused on her rather than the healing itself.
  4. Abide with them: Long-term sickness can be lonely and debilitating. Friends who stay the course, who support in the hard times through years and decades are so very soothing to an ill person. When people sit with me, stay with me, pray with me, persevere with me without pressure, I feel upheld and valued. Thank you.
  5. Don’t tell them it’s their fault they are not healed: I’ve heard them all over the years: I don’t have enough faith. It’s an unconfessed sin. I haven’t tried hard enough. All of these words are a heavy weight on the person who is already struggling with pain, and not something reflected in the way Jesus interacted with people. Jesus told this woman her faith had made her well – he honoured her when she needed to be honoured – but he never said to anyone that their lack of faith kept them sick.
  6. Pray that God will assure the person of his love for them: More than anything else, people need to know the presence and assurance of God. A healing prayer isn’t always a prayer that has tangible physical results, but can be a prayer which leaves the person certain of God’s love and God’s touch on their lives. When people have prayed this for me I’ve been left with a changed perspective and launched into contentment, rather than left with disappointment and bitterness.

There are many more ways to help – do add your own in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you are long-term sick or not.

How to pray with the long-term sick: so many times prayer is focused on the problem not the person, and this turns the person into the problem. #chronicillness #prayforhealing #spoonielife by @LizCarterWriter Share on X

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  1. Marie

    Thx for this. I am longterm sick with cfs. Many CHRISTIANS have prayed for over the years a d I didnt get healed. God told me I would get better with his help if I did my part to place myself. I’ve had people say -RIGHT YOUVE BEEN PRAYED FOR NOW SO ITS UP TO YOU TO HAVE THE FAITH to BELIEVE IT.
    And I’ve heard people of said IF YOU ARE NOT HEALED LOOK WITHIN YOURSELF. This is judgemental and Makes me angry and sad.
    God uses sickness at times for his purposes, to develop us
    , separate us from the world and bring us closer to himself and to use us to show the world that we can still have joy through God even tho we are sick…..etc etc
    Gods WAYS are NOT OUR WAYS.

    • liz

      Thank you so much for your message, Marie. My heart breaks that you have been told this kind of thing when you are at your most vulnerable, sick with CFS which must be a horrible condition to live with. I’ve been told similar, and it can end up having a detrimental effect on mental health too, because we are then left feeling like we have somehow failed. But we haven’t – we just live in the now and the not-yet, where we sometimes see break through of God’s power in healing, and often don’t, but that isn’t our fault, as some would say. I hope you have a good day today. Bless you x

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