52 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend

If you are looking for ways to encourage a friend who is living with a chronic illness, dealing with a lot of pain, or even fighting cancer, this article is a great starting point to think creatively!

Get the “Beyond Casseroles” book for 505 ways!

By Lisa Copen

Excerpt from Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend – Please do not reprint without permission or reword a few of the ideas and post as your own article. We’ve seen quite a few out there and appreciate you linking back to the source here. Thanks!

“A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world.” ~Lois Wyse

  1. Ask, “What events in your life are changing and how are you coping with the changes?”
  2. Understand that she lives in a constant state of making decisions for which there is no guarantee that she is making the right choice.
  3. Put meals in disposable containers and attach a note saying “This doesn’t need to be returned.”
  4. Add stickers to envelopes for a cheerful touch.
  5. Arrange for your friend’s kids to have a night with your children.
  6. Don’t make a person into a project.
  7. Ask, “Would you be willing to talk to a friend of mine who has recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness and offer her some encouragement?” It makes one feel good to know that her
    experience can offer someone else hope and that God still has a purpose for her life.
  8. Wash his car and put a little note inside for him to find later.
  9. Remember important anniversaries, both the good and the bad. No one else will.
  10. Ask, “Do you want company the day that you wait for the test results? I could come over for a couple of hours.”
  11. “No matter how little you have, you can always give some of it away.” ~Catherine Marshall
  12. Just listen . . . until it hurts to not say anything. And then listen some more.
  13. Ask her, “How do you feel God is working through-or despite-this illness in your life? I’m interested.”
  14. Ask, “What do you wish people understood about your illness?”
  15. Don’t make her feel guilty about things that she cannot do.
  16. Treat her to a gift of movie rentals via postal mail through a service ($7-15 a month).
  17. Ask, “Would you be comfortable with having your name on a prayer list, so that others can pray for you?” Don’t assume.
  18. Instead of saying, “I will pray for you,” say, “I’d like to pray for you right now, if that’s okay.”
  19. Mop the floors.
  20. Ask if she would be interested in writing something for the church newsletter, maybe even about the subject of living with chronic illness.
  21. Buy a brightly colored umbrella as a gift.
  22. Ask, “Do you have an errand I can run for you before coming over?”
  23. Ask her to do spontaneous things, like go to a concert in the park, or just for a picnic. She may be more likely to participate since she knows if it’s a good day or a bad day.
  24. Don’t say, “So, why aren’t you healed yet?” or “I wonder what God is trying to teach you that you just aren’t learning!”
  25. For a unique gift, provide brightly colored paper plates, napkins, and utensils in a gift bag with a note that says “For when you don’t feel like doing dishes.”
  26. Get her a pretty box to keep all of her notes of encouragement. Remind her to get it out and read things when she is feeling down.
  27. Be her advocate. If you are at an event and walking/seating is an issue because of her disability, ask her if she’d like you to take care of it. If she says you can, be firm but not rude.
    Don’t embarrass her by making accusations of discrimination or by making a scene.
  28. Ask, “Would you be interested in a prayer partner from our church?”
  29. Purchase matching coffee mugs for you and your friend, and then commit to pray for one another each morning while using them.
  30. Say, “While you’re in the hospital I’d be happy to take care of your pet.”
  31. Don’t tell her about your brother’s niece’s cousin’s best friend who tried a cure for the same illness and. . . (you know the rest).
  32. Find out which charity is most important to her and then give a donation in her honor.
  33. Ask, “What are your top three indulgences?” and then spoil her soon.
  34. Hold the door open for her. They are heavy!
  35. Don’t tease her and call her “hop along” or “slowpoke.” Comments you mean in fun can cut to the quick and destroy her spirit. Proverbs 18:14 says, “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”
  36. Say, “I know you must need someone to just vent to occasionally. I may not fully understand how you feel, but I’m here to listen anytime.”
  37. Ask your church youth group to come over and clean up the yard during seasonal changes.
  38. Don’t ask her, “How are you able to make it financially?” If she wants to share a burden she will.
  39. Ask, “What would you advise me to look for in a new doctor?”
  40. If your friend has a disabled parking placard and you are driving, allow her to tell you where she wants to park. If she’s feeling particularly good that day, she may not want to park in the “blue space.” Don’t be disappointed that you’ll have to walk farther.
  41. Don’t gossip about others. She’ll wonder what you say about her. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Be kind, gentle, and respectful.
  42. Accept that her chronic illness may not go away. If she’s accepting it, don’t tell her the illness is winning and she’s giving in to it.
  43. Don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” People rarely feel comfortable saying, “Yes, my laundry.” Instead pick something you are willing to do and then ask her permission. Try the coupon in back!
  44. Send an encouragement card or a funny card, but resist the temptation to send one that says, “Get Well Soon.” (You can read why here, “Why Did Someone Send Me a Get Well Soon Card?“)
  45. Ask her to share her testimony at an event.
  46. Buy a magazine subscription for her on her favorite topic.
  47. Plant a rosebush to view from a window.
  48. Understand that you don’t need to know all of the details about the illness in order to be helpful.,He’ll share with you what he’s comfortable with you knowing.
  49. Don’t ask, “Why can’t the doctors help you?” or insinuate that it must be in her head. There are millions of people who are in pain with illnesses that do not have cures.
  50. Avoid having gifts be “pity gifts.” Just say, “I saw these flowers and their cheerfulness reminded me of you.”
  51. Send CDs of church services your friend misses to her with a copy of the bulletin and a note.
  52. If she doesn’t have a cordless phone, get her one. Phone headsets are also nice.

Beyond Casseroles is a popular little book to help people understand the needs of the chronically ill–and then get into action. They are $6 each or 3 for $15; we recommend getting one for yourself, one for a friend, and one for an influencer (like a counselor, pastor, women’s ministry leader, doctor, etc.)

Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.

3 Responses to 52 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend

  1. Hi! A friend shared this post with me, and I really appreciate it – I’ve got diabetes, and after ten years, it’s still not controlled.
    ANYWAY. I would love to share this post on my blog, and link to both your blog and the book’s purchasing page. If you have any questions or concerns, I’d love to correspond! :)
    Thank you. And BE BLESSED! I’ll wait to hear from you.

    • Thank you, Lori… And thank your friend for sharing. Please feel free to reprint as you have mentioned. Just add Reprinted with Permission. Bless you!

  2. This is a wonderful post. Some years ago, I wrote an item basically about how NOT to treat people with rheumatoid arthritis. Some people feel it was too dark or in your face. But I was writing not from my own perspective but the perspective of the numerous people who I saw were having a hard time with their families and friends getting it. I worded it more “in your face” in a way because it reflected the frustration of people who had tried and tried but were either ignored or not believed. This is an excellent list of how people SHOULD treat those of us with chronic illnesses. I’d love to link to this and the book on my blog as well as sharing this list. I’ve begun a modified Project 365 where there are some twists since if I took a picture a day, it’d be rather boring because I do not get out and do much since there’s a heavy price to pay for being overly active. I enjoy my 2 days a month of visiting the nursing home where I was a resident for 2 years while re-learning to walk as well as just take care of myself. Being in a nursing home at 32-34 is a bit of an odd situation. But I very much enjoy going back as part of a ministry group.

    On my blog, rather than doing a picture a day, I share something health related, either a link to another blog post with some quotes, a news article, or even something I have written. I did a 30 posts in 30 days challenge for Health Activist Writers Month from WEGo Health and in researching something came across Rest Ministries again. When I heard of Project 365 and saw that people were putting their own spin on it and decided to do the same since I don’t take a ton of pictures. This would be a perfect item to share as part of my Project 365!

    Number 7 “Ask, “Would you be willing to talk to a friend of mine who has recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness and offer her some encouragement?” It makes one feel good to know that her experience can offer someone else hope and that God still has a purpose for her life.” This is one I am always willing to say yes to no matter how bad I am feeling.

    On the following one, “Don’t tease her and call her “hop along” or “slowpoke.” Comments you mean in fun can cut to the quick and destroy her spirit. Proverbs 18:14 says, “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?”” This is one of those that, for some people and especially for me, I am not offended by teasing by friends and my close family members. I joke and call myself a “gimp”, my son and husband jokingly threaten to push my wheelchair out into traffic when leaving a store, etc. I’ve always laughed at myself and my husband, 10 yr old son and close friends all do the same. In fact, when I first had to use a wheelchair to go shopping at the mall, I was a bit frustrated about it and kinda down even though I knew it was the best thing for me. So, in order to cheer me up, my husband was being silly. He was making revving noises or if we needed to back up, he’d beep. There was one store I was wanting to go in, but the aisles were too narrow for me in the wheelchair and it was a bit too crowded. So he left me in a seating area outside the store. As he walked off he told me to behave or he’d take me and leave me and go home without me. The elderly woman sitting there thought he was serious but he was just trying to make me laugh.

    When I make stupid mistakes such as putting the milk in the cabinet and the cereal in the fridge or something like that, what else is there to do but laugh at yourself? You can either beat yourself up over it, or laugh it off. If I can laugh at myself, why should I not expect others to do the same? As long as they are not being cruel I don’t mind about innocent teasing. In fact, during my 11 month hospital stay while I was not alert and oriented and when I was still recovering my son and husband stopped picking on me for a good long time. In fact. I had to say something to get my husband to pick on me again. My son, reacted sooner however. I was eating a bag of potato chips and had tipped the bag up to my mouth to get the crumbs out of the bottom. That was the first I’d been able to eat chips in months because of my nausea. So I was gonna eat all I could. My son caught me and called me a piggie. He thought he was in trouble when I very quietly asked what he said. I was just trying to keep a straight face. So for me, and other people I know, laughing at their disease is one way that keeps the disease from winning so to speak.

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