As I sat there with some friends inside one of the lowest points of my life, I just wanted someone to listen, someone to look me in the eye and tell me that they see all the pain and frustration in me; that they understood everything that was happening and that they would have my back. Although these people had good intentions, they resorted to the same thing countless others had done before “Hey, let’s pray that Jesus heals you”. I left that interaction in the same exact place I started, still wildly sick with no one to comfort, listen and just be a friend to me. Everyone just wanted to “pray it away” or “see what Jesus thought about all this”.
Alright, I know this started on a highly controversial note, but let me explain some back ground information. Faith is one of the most important parts of my life; it was pushed on me growing up but I began to have a radical conversion back to the faith at 16 years old. When I returned back into the faith, all I wanted to do was be my normal self and to make an impact on this world. This desire led me to the craziest experience I had yet, becoming a missionary in Scotland. As an 18 year old kid, I could not believe the gift that I was given, being able to combine my passions of travel and personal interactions with others that would leave a positive impact on the community. As I left for Scotland, I could not have been more excited.
I quickly began to fall in love with my my new position, however, I began to develop some stomach issues, I did not think too much of it, but all of a sudden it became my worst nightmare. I started to develop and extreme fatigue that surpasses any sickness I had ever experienced before, I could no longer hold food down without becoming nearly immobilized, and I developed this intense pain within my stomach that would not go away no matter what I did or what pill was thrown inside of me, I began to see doctor after doctor but I was only getting worse.
In January of 2020, my body began to break down, I was trying to live an intense missionary/humanitarian lifestyle but I could barely even stand without feeling like I was going to pass out of sheer exhaustion. I couldn’t even eat without my stomach flaring up and I was faced with the hardest decision of my life, stay here as I savor this once in a lifetime experience or head back home to receive the medical care I so badly needed.
I decided reluctantly that it was in my best interest to go home and get medical care over harming my body further by staying on this intense schedule. That plane ride home was one of the loneliest experiences of my entire life, I couldn’t deal with the fact that I was leaving so many amazing people behind, feeling as though I failed them, my work, and that desire to inspire others that was placed in me so deeply at age 16. We eventually learned that I had a severe bacterium and parasite infection that was eating my body from the inside out, this allowed me to become wildly malnourished and ruined my entire stomach. This recovery was no easy feat, I would end up along a healing process that would take 2 full years to heal.
When I say how much mental and emotional hurt that put me through, I seem to always fall short of words. I was one of the most active and energetic teenagers on the planet. All I wanted to do was leave an impact but would wake up every day and be reminded that my body could not take it anymore.
As time progressed I found myself still wildly sick, unable to return to more mission/humanitarian work, too ill to go to a 4 year university as I lay sitting at home not knowing if I would ever heal all while becoming envious of my friends who could do “normal young adult things” like go to University or take a gap year to help a community. I started to crave to be understood by people who actually got what was happening in my life. I could never get through my story without completely losing so I was reluctant to share my story. Occasionally people pried the story out of me, and as I sat there explaining, people never really knew how to react, it almost made people feel uncomfortable.
I left for Scotland energetic, happy and full of life, and now I could barely even muster up the strength to function on a daily basis. That sight was jarring to many people and would leave people quite speechless. Nearly every single person would try to make the situation better on the spot by telling me all the potential silver linings and why I shouldn’t be upset, the would offer to pray for me on the spot, and although these acts had great intentions I began to feel incredibly lonely.
I began to notice that all it seemed like Christians wanted to do was pray it away. The truth is I needed very specific medical care and having gone under something very physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually taxing I just wanted to talk to someone who would listen and knew that they couldn’t make it better.
People who I once looked up too for their faith began to feel so distant. I felt as though no one saw what was actually going on and tried to remove themselves from the sheer discomfort of my situation. I became this object to be prayed over, an object to be ministered too, an object to give the “warm fuzzy Jesus high” too. The people who prayed over me would say things like “God told me you were going to heal in 2 weeks”, and “God told me if I prayed more I’d be healed”, and I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. This constant swiping my pain under the rug became just as hard as the actual illness itself.
I am a loud and proud Christian but within these interactions, I couldn’t help but wonder how people who didn’t believe in God would feel within these interactions. In the past many people who struggled with the idea of God and spirituality always told me how they felt like some project and I realized that I was experiencing that exact same feeling they described to me. I realized how disturbing this reality is to so many people who feel misunderstood by mainstream Christian outreach.
I began to look at Christian online accounts trying to spread the gospel and realized something. All that was talked about in every post is Jesus. How good Jesus is, how Jesus did this, Jesus did that and although there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, we cannot ignore the fact that this creates a divide between believers and unbelievers. If this idea of God is something that someone you struggle with, how do we expect you to become engaged with this material? Yes, God is good, but we have no idea what kind of pain someone is going through. We have no idea about the lived experience of others. With this approach, nothing becomes engaging out of this material as there is no common ground; there becomes nothing to relate too.
Before I left for my gap year, there was an image I came upon that struck me deeply, it was a clipart photo of a malnourished infant in a third world country, the infant desperately needed some nourishing food, but instead the infant was given a Bible in their mouth to chew on by a Christian from a first world country who appeared as happy as can be. My message to whoever is reading this, is that your pain does not deserve to be given a “Jesus talk” and then completely ignored, your hurt is worth more than someone shoving a bible down your throat and your life should be “all better”.
In the Christian world we are taught how noble it is to spread the goodness of God, but often forget that we are first and foremost called to treat the whole person. It is better to sit with someone in their pain and refrain from “praying it away” than it is to turn the situation into a Jesus moment leaving the person feeling incredibly alone and misunderstood.
Some practical tips to living this out if someone expresses their pain is as simple as asking someone “what do you need from me?” Or “is this helping?” If you feel misunderstood by someone praying it away you can start off the conversation off by saying, “I don’t need you to solve all my problems but I just need you to listen and understand.” Always remember that it does not make you less of a person if you do not want to “pray it away” I would argue that it makes you more spiritually mature by knowing what is within a physical, emotional, or mental realm and what is in the spiritual.
In the beginning phases of going deeper within one’s faith journey, it can be easy to try and apply God to every situation for anyone and everyone, however, mainstream Christianity needs to be able to analyze when and where this approach is applicable in addition to when it is not. A one size approach does not fit everyone. The best way to love someone show that you want to be there for them is simply to listen; it is as simple, as that! Perhaps the best way to minister to someone is to stop trying to minister and just be a real person.
Jacob has always been passionate about athletics. He enjoys anything active, outdoors, and with people. Jacob desires that every Christian stays true to their own individual gifts and talents rather than become the ideal person people may want us to be at times. He has been an avid leader in local youth groups, mentor to others, and even a Christian Missionary in Scotland. Jacob is currently studying Business and Marketing through the Minnesota Community College program. He would love to get to know you and your own story as well. If his story resonated with you or you need someone to talk to reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.