Changing the World When You Are Chronically Ill, Disabled, or Housebound

Uganda First Day (47)

How much can you really do if you are chronically ill, disabled, or housebound? How much impact can you really have? Can you still change the world? Actually let’s get more practical. I’m wondering if you can still serve and engage in justice when getting around, getting out the door, or even getting out of bed are struggles for some, impossible for others.

Because I was wondering these things, I bought and read the book Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World than Actually Changing the World by Eugene Cho. It is a newly published book about justice, service, and the grand plans so many in this current generation have to change the world. To be honest, I was expecting this book to make me feel dejected, inadequate, and incapable. Because let’s be honest, how much can we really do with so few physical resources, sometimes limited to the bounds of our own homes? I expected discouragement, but was pleasantly surprised to finish feeling inspired, encouraged, and hopeful.

I was felt inspired because most of Cho’s suggestions are accessible to anyone, regardless of physical ability.

The basic premise of the book is that we talk about changing the world, but never follow through. We talk about changing the world, and in the process forget that we are called to change ourselves. To the average Christian who so quickly tweets, blogs, raises awareness and vents about social justice issues on various social media platforms but rarely follows through with further fruitful action, Cho offers suggestions that we are all capable of following.

He first explains why justice is important. We participate in justice because, “you cannot read the Scriptures without sensing God’s heart for justice.” He cites verse after verse, including mentioning Micah 6:8 several times throughout the book. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We participate in justice because God calls us to, it reflects God’s character, and opens doors for evangelism. But what do we do when acting justly feels physically impossible? How do we participate in justice when the basic acts of living take up most of our strength? Cho gives some great suggestions to get us started.

We resist the lure of upward mobility and seek to model Christ’s story of downward mobility. Even in the midst of chronic pain, chronic illness or disability, we are still able to live lives of simplicity and “lifestyle[s] of enough.” In a world that calls us towards a path of upward mobility, we can buy what we need, freeing us to “live lives of radical generosity.” Perhaps our bills are higher than others after paying for insurance, prescriptions, medical expenses, caretaker services, or the other innumerable expenses that come with serious health issues, but after we have paid for what we need, if there is money left over, our lives of simplicity can leave room for great generosity.

“Shut Up, Listen, and Pray.” We actually have a step up on this one. Cho states, “We live in a busy world, with busy lives, and busy schedules…With so much noise and chaos in our busy lives, we need to create space to listen to God’s voice.” While not the case for all, many with chronic conditions have more than enough space to stop and pray. We have been forced to exit the busy world of go, go, go to stop and let our bodies rest. Have an idea? Don’t be scared to take some time to sit on it, pray, and wait for God’s clarity. Cho states, “After the Holy Spirit prompted Nehemiah’s heart [to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem], scholars believe that his time of praying, confession, and repentance was not just a couple days, but…four to six months…This time humbles him, opens his eyes, breaks his heart, and gives him a renewed vision.” We use our time of forced waiting and stillness to pray and see the will and vision of God for our lives.

We develop perseverance, tenacity, and resilience, qualities that are needed to pursue justice. In considering how the trials of immigration shaped him and his parents, Cho wonders about this current generation. What trials will shape us to become world changers? He states, “I believe we should be about the marathon and not about instant gratification. We don’t need one-hit wonders; we need steady and faithful engagement. We need people who are faithful. People who are tenacious. People who don’t give up. These people are few and far between. But they can truly change the world.” What better avenue to gain these qualities than the marathon of chronic pain and illness.

We become experts in the areas we are passionate about. We follow Cho’s advice: “If something matters to you, then go deep. Take the time, and make a commitment to be an expert in the areas of your passion.” Why do we do this? Because when we don’t, we engage in helping that hurts. We don’t understand the nuances of the issue we claim to be so passionate about and take actions that may seem to help, or do help in the short-term, but cause problems in the long-term. And the good news? Many of us with chronic conditions have time to become experts. We have time to dig into the context, history, facts, and specifics of whatever issue we care about so that when we do make a plan and take action, we actually help instead of mistakenly making things worse.

If we believe God has called us to something, we must go for it. We make a plan. We pray, reflect, seek advice, plan, research, and then pursue it and make it happen. This is where it gets tough. This is where I’m tempted to think – “what can I do? I’m so physically limited.” But I have ideas, and I am sorting through them. I’ve seen great things carried out by others who are physically disabled and chronically ill, and so I know it is possible to do great things in the midst of great adversity. I’m encouraged that Cho encourages small steps and being wise and calculated along the way – running a marathon instead of racing a sprint. And I’m brainstorming ways in which those who are chronically ill, disabled, or housebound can serve and pursue justice. More to come in Part II.

Ultimately, I am encouraged by some of Cho’s final words: “Don’t underestimate what God can do through your life. God has a long and proven history of using foolish and broken people for His glory.”

*Buy Overrated on Amazon – this week on sale for Kindle. 

**Update – If you liked this post, consider joining our facebook group for chronically fabulous people who want to change the world.

15 Comments

  1. I found this post really thought provoking and encouraging. I used to work in international development and was passionate about causes like ending global health disparity. Since fibromyalgia, all that has come to a screeching halt. I’m doing a part time online social work program, and trying to envision a future in that area, but it’s such a struggle doing the classes I’m not sure how yet. One day at a time! We all need to find meaning and purpose, even with chronic illness.

    1. Very interesting – I may need to pick your brain sometime for ideas. I have my counseling license, and although I can only work extremely part time, I am so glad that I did it. Someday I may try to counsel out of a home office, which would enable me to see more people. A dream at least. And for now, you are exactly right – one day at a time!

      1. Sure! Counseling, support groups or mindfulness courses to help people manage chronic health issues are some of the things I’d like to do eventually. It’s inspiring that you got your license and are practicing! A home practice sounds ideal!

        1. Those are great ideas – have considered them as well. It has been a long and hard road, and not over yet as I am still in the stages of practicing under supervision and need to gain hours to be independently licensed. But be encouraged that small steps over time can lead to big results in the end.

    1. Hi Danielle, I have to remind myself of the same thing! And still figuring out ways to interact with the world around me in the midst of my limitations. Would love to hear your thoughts if you have any as well 🙂

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