People who live with chronic illness or physical challenges need compassion, not condemnation.
Some folks are born with disabilities; others of us become disabled later in life. In my case, I was almost 40 years old when my life took a surprising and challenging detour into chronic illness and disability.
I had been diagnosed with diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure several years before that time but had enjoyed fairly decent health. Then the bottom started dropping out.
I developed a myriad of complications from the diabetes. A head injury sustained in an accident caused a vision disorder that made it impossible for me to safely drive a car on a highway or interstate. I was diagnosed with primary immune deficiency, a disorder that made me sick with various kinds of viral or bacterial infections almost constantly.
At midlife, I found myself unable to perform a full-time job or even drive myself to the doctor's office. Routine activities that I had taken for granted became major challenges or simply had to be given up. My world became increasingly smaller.
I have always been one to count my blessings, and I have been blessed for 24 years to have as my companion and friend my wife, Mary. An inner-city, special-education teacher, Mary had to begin to shoulder much of the load at home (including becoming my "taxi driver"). Our financial situation began to deteriorate when we were forced to live mostly on her modest salary. This added additional stress to our lives.
Mary and I are blessed to have some good Christian friends who offer support, encouragement and intercessory prayer. These are believers who realize that a disabled person needs encouragement and understanding more than anything else.
I wish I could say this has been the case with all of our Christian friends and acquaintances, but then I wouldn't be telling the truth. Others, frankly, have been more a part of the problem than the solution.
As a "full gospel" believer, I know from the Bible that our God is a healing God. I have many friends who have been miraculously healed of a number of serious diseases and illnesses.
I've learned that God does things His way in His time. I prayed for and expected immediate healing, but for reasons known only to the Lord, it hasn't occurred yet.
I began to identify with the biblical character Job, who learned that it wasn't his job to question God but to trust in His love and wait patiently until His deliverance finally came.
Some of my charismatic friends and acquaintances don't see it quite the same way. They find various ways to let me know they view my illness and disability as being somehow my fault.
I've been told I am "worse than an infidel" because I am not able to work full time and my wife has become our primary provider. People have said I must have major unconfessed sin that's keeping me ill or that I must not have enough faith to receive my healing. I've even been reprimanded for not repeating aloud enough Scriptures with sufficient frequency to earn my healing. The list goes on.
Through all of this, I have learned to place my trust in a God who is always faithful and willing to help, even during the darkest hours. Those of us who have chronic health problems and disabilities aren't looking for pity, and we aren't looking for someone to solve all our problems--only God is capable of that.
But, at the very least, we need to know that our brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for us and standing with us as we face considerable challenges associated with disability and chronic health problems.
Sometimes a compassionate smile and a pat on the back from a Christian brother or sister can be just what the doctor ordered.
James R. Hall is a former newspaper reporter and editor and contributing columnist with the New York Times News Service. He is a freelance writer as well as an ordained pastor and lives with his wife and son in Shelbyville, Indiana.