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The church has a responsibility to care for those facing illness


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By Megan Cuilla
I know I have a soul, because I can feel its weight. It’s heavy, like a lead apron I can’t remove. Sometimes I fear suffocation. Sometimes I pray for it.

Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with an illness. The necessary treatment is unpleasant and the side effects are sometimes worse than the illness itself. You begin taking medications, which, until your body adjusts, leave you feeling nauseous and exhausted. You have frequent appointments in addition to blood draws and medication checks. If the symptoms of the illness become severe, you are admitted to the hospital where your diagnosis is reviewed and your medication is adjusted, leaving you with a hefty bill and a new slate of side effects.

Now imagine you’re doing all of this in secret. Your illness brings up feelings of shame. It’s mocked and misunderstood. It makes others uncomfortable. It’s best if no one knows.

Facing illness of any kind is scary, but the stigma surrounding mental illness adds another component wherein fear lingers. They’ll think I’m crazy. They won’t believe me. They’ll reject me. Whether real or perceived, these worries are valid.

Many years ago, the illness stirring in me was too much for my church to handle, so I was asked to leave. It was not a request made for my own benefit, but for the comfort of others. My presence was tarnishing the image of perfection this church had created. I was sick and, therefore, imperfect; I was imperfect and, therefore, not welcome. I was 17 years old.

Faith communities have a responsibility to care for the sick. If you would not turn your back on a person suffering from physical illness, do not turn your back on a person suffering from mental illness.

Caring includes listening. Caring includes being there. Would you offer medical advice to a person with a physical illness, or would you accept that their illness is their current reality? Would you offer platitudes to a person recovering from an injury, or would you simply sit with them during the painful moments?

There is no doubt mental illness is messy. It’s sometimes dangerous, often lonely, and always painful. Still, Christ commands us to love one another. Unlike my experience in the past, I’ve encountered this love from the faith community to which I now belong. I don’t have to justify my need. I don’t have to justify my worth. Without judgment, I am welcomed. Without judgment, I am loved. And this is how it should be. This is how we care for the least of these.

Megan Cuilla
Megan Cuilla
Megan Cuilla is a self-proclaimed seeker who regularly asks the questions, “Who am I?” and, “Where do I belong?” She is currently exploring the reconciliation of her feminist beliefs with what she considers a complicated relationship with her body.

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9 years ago

Your words are so powerful. Thank you for this piece, Megan!

Cara Strickland
9 years ago

Thank you for sharing this, Megan. It’s so important, so simple and so clear. I love that part at the end where you say that you don’t have to justify your need. That is my great struggle. Such an encouraging piece.

Liv Larson Andrews
Liv Larson Andrews
9 years ago

For your honesty, your bravery, your presence in our midst, thank you Megan. Love you and your words.

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