Living with an illness, you are more likely to face people who don’t understand your daily struggles. Sometimes, these people can be inconsiderate and hurtful. Have you ever wanted to tell them how you really feel, but didn’t feel like you were able to? Now is your chance! Write an open letter to the people who have hurt you. What would you say to them? What lessons would you like them to learn?
I’ve never written about this in my blog.
Yet you asked, so I will answer.
Dear church family,
I will not post the names of each congregation, but you know who you are. In case there is any doubt, I am speaking to the congregations we attended from 1999 through 2013.
You were witness to the early onset of Cluster Headache attacks. Doctors didn’t know how to help and the Emergency Room was even worse. I was frightened, thinking the attacks might kill me. Our children were small and just as scared. My husband stood by me, helpless to relieve my agony, angry that no one else could help either.
You did nothing.
From 1999 to 2012, you stood by silently as Migraine and Cluster Headache attacks kept me sidelined from everything I enjoyed, including your worship services. Then when Fibromyalgia made its appearance in 2012, only one person asked how I was doing. I wonder if she would have ever asked has I not been given one good morning in which I felt healthy enough make it to Sunday worship.
Some of the most active members and a minister lived just a few houses from us from 2010 to 2013. You waved as we drove by your house on the way to one of many doctor’s appointments. Yet you never stopped to knock on my door. How could you be so callous when as neighbors, you knew how badly I suffered?
I was frightened, lonely, and so very sick.
None of you were ever witness to the searing agony of a Cluster Headache attack that left me screaming in pain and crying out to God to make it stop. You never witnessed the non-stop vomiting, the days of throbbing pain. None of you every filled an ice bag or helped me find my medicine. You had no idea what I was going through because you didn’t want to know.
You never even bothered to pick up the phone to ask how I was doing. No one visited me when I was hospitalized. No one asked if I needed a ride or some company at doctor visits. I know for a fact that every one of you had a ministry dedicated to those members who were not physically able to attend services. Not once was I ever contacted by anyone to see if I still wanted to be a part of the church.
Is this the way that Jesus taught us to treat each other?
If I had been diagnosed with cancer, would it have been the same? You see, I’ve been a Christian my whole life. Not once in all those years have I ever read a prayer list that included anything except cancer and death. Well let me tell you something. There are a lot Christians facing diseases that are just as painful and life-threatening as cancer and we all deserve the loving care of our church families. Instead, you abandon your own, leaving us to fend for ourselves while you self-righteously take comfort that at least your butts are warming a chair every Sunday morning.
Jesus commanded us to live out our faith by loving everyone who crossed our path. The early church was far more devoted to easing the burdens of its congregation than I’ve ever experienced. We are called to love one another and to meet the needs of the sick, poor, and anyone else who struggles. Jesus himself would not have treated me that way. But he is not here. You are. You are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Where were your hands and feet when I needed them?
You know that what you did was wrong.
The Holy Spirit was very present to comfort me and give me strength. My relationship with Jesus is stronger because of the experiences I’ve been forced to endure. All of that doesn’t change the reality that my practical needs were not met. My family simply had to do without.
It wasn’t a problem of money.
All the bills got paid and there was food in the cabinets. But there was no one there to prepare that food, wash the dishes, or clean up. When I was terribly sick, my husband was afraid to leave me at home alone. He worried that I might not get enough to eat or drink, or that I might fall on the stairs, or need emergency help and not be able to call for it. Those fears that often became reality. At it’s worst, he feared for my life. Money can’t fix that. He and I needed our church family. Where were you?
We were all alone.
No one called or stopped by to check on us. That was the worst part. We needed you! You are our brothers and sisters in Christ, yet you abandoned one of your own. Don’t give me that, “We didn’t know” excuse. All you had to do was notice that we were missing and pick up the phone to see if we were okay. We would have told you the truth because we were in desperate need of your love and prayers.
I get it that people are busy and that you can’t help everyone, but we were one of your own. How could you abandon us? Had this happened at only one congregation, I could overlook it. But four different congregations in three different cities and three denominations all treated us the same. Two were small congregations, one was of average size, and a third was a mega church. It’s not about the given church and its challenges. The way Christians in the U.S. treat their own when they get sick is a pervasive problem. The church is not obeying the commands of Jesus to care for the sick.
I haven’t been inside a church in over three years.
It became impossible to even try. Honestly, I am as much or more disabled than those sweet little old ladies you minister to because they are shut-ins. Just because I can’t attend services, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a part of the church family. You assume that because I am young and I “look fine” when you see me that I must not want to be in church. That’s unfair. You make assumptions without asking me. I look healthy when you see me because I only leave the house on those rare days when I feel almost normal. I have to use those rare days to get all my shopping done, pick up my medicines, and overall get things done.
On the rare Sunday when my symptoms were tolerable enough to get out of bed, I didn’t want to waste them by surrounding myself with people who really didn’t care about me. My response has not been sinful. It’s been very human – a natural response to being abandoned. That’s not a sin. It’s the fallout from being the victim of someone else’s sin — yours.