To be perfectly honest, at times yes. I am not sure if before I became a homebound as a Christian almost 20 years ago, I had ever given it much serious thought. I was of course aware of people who were elderly or who became unwell, and I would visit them. And enjoyed doing it. But depending on the severity of their limitations, it did challenge me and how I should be around that person. Just being myself would have been the answer. At times I felt like a bumbling idiot. But did I ever consider the longer term impact on their faith life? I think very likely not.
Why am I thinking about this?
Taking part in an online Lent course is making me far more aware of my own experience. And the importance of gently sharing it. And discovering surprisingly how many people, appear unaware of homebound Christians. This is not said as a form of criticism, simply an acknowledgement of my complete surprise. Do we seriously still not exist? Many have what is often termed ‘Invisible Illness’, but invisible shouldn’t be how society views a person. Excuse the pun. And there are far more of us than people may realise.
How The Other Half Live
All folk who are homebound by illness, chronic illness, disability (be that physical or neurological or both), age or caring roles are aware of how much life possibly opened up for them online during the dreaded lockdown.
There were online shows, gallery viewings, classes etc. You name it, it was online. And more people ready and available to interact with. Not everyone, like myself, could or can, access these a lot. My cognition doesn’t allow it. But still for those that could, it was available.
I was disappointed this week, discovering on enquiry, that the most current David Hockney exhibition is not planned to offer an online or USB viewing option. My piece Is Chronic Illness Live Art gives more detail about my home art experiences. Go Van Gogh, you’re miles ahead! And many online options have been shelved now. Many continue, many don’t. I was invited to a mailing list instead. Umm, maybe. Also worth reading whilst on the subject is this article on LinkedIn about AI and invisible women, written by a dear friend.
To Share Or Not To Share
One of my young folk recently said to me that they felt that I have so much experience for people to learn from, that I should share it. But I felt wary, as many people may take that as they might do reading this, that I am finger pointing. Or prodding them in the ribs with a sharp stick. I often feel that I must preempt my sharing with a bowing apology. And not that people make me feel that I should. But it can seem that some are so unaware, that they might feel embarrassed for not knowing.
Back To The Lent Course
The Lent Course I am following online is offered through St Martin’s-in-the-fields, London. They embarked on online outreach during Covid, and have thankfully continued as it has grown and sustained in popularity. Lucky me! The Lent Course is offered both on site at the church and online. Those of us joining online are allocated zoom groups, where we meet to reflect on the message of the book being studied. Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan. About a Catholic missionary who is placed in East Africa, tasked with sharing the Gospel with the Masai. Wow! It makes the mind think. And really challenges.
We have wonderings to ponder on. And unsurprisingly the following question came up to ponder –
One of the themes that came from this wondering was about community being physically present. And that’s once again not a criticism. But I will be honest, that I had to stifle laughter. Because I wanted to blurt out, ‘what about homebound Christians’? Really loudly. I hope I wasn’t smirking involuntarily.
How Did I Respond?
The aim during the zoom meetings is to keep it brief, enabling everyone time to share. It works very well, and is very respectful, with everyone on mute, apart from the group lead. So as to avoid anyone speaking over another and to encourage listening. Let’s face it, that’s a skill all of us can continually improve on.
Part of my response also stems from the message often preached about one having to attend church to be an active Christian – Go and find a church. Not that this was said or intimated during the zoom call. But, what if you physically cannot. Permanently. Not just during a pandemic lockdown. But for the rest of your life. What if attending or attempting to might risk another midnight Paramedic visit and ride in an ambulance, or weeks crippled in agony, or just completely wiped out? What then. Are you a sub-par Christian?
No you’re not. But still the physical church has to do more to let people know they are seen. Valued. Cherished. A part of the community although unseen and unknown by many. I am incredibly grateful to have finally found an inclusive church where I genuinely feel part of the congregation. And can actively participate in services, regularly, online. And get to know the congregation, again online. Not just as a one off option. I am also fortunate to have connections to a small church group locally. But I cannot meet with them, and am rarely able to welcome visitors, so message from time to time.
Of course, not every church will have the same resources. And yes, there are faith TV channels, as opposed to online options. A few who offer live interaction. Which for me has been a lifeline. And for some folk that might be enough. And even with these transmissions the message is the same. ‘You are so welcomed here, but go and find a Church’.
Capacity, or Rather The Lack
For that invisible Christian their very occasional trip out, every few weeks or months or never, might be for medical treatment, to feel the elements on their skin, to see family. Or just to see life. It might be to attend a church service or it may not be. And if they do, maybe not to be seen again for months or years, and then forgotten or assumed moved on to pastures new. For that person, pastures new could be the living room or spending some time out of bed.
People in the isolated situation will know God sees them. Their relationship will have been through more valleys than they care to express. But in that isolation and confinement. God will have reached out to them in those incredibly dark and barren times and said here I am. You are not alone, I love and value you, I see your pain, your frustration, your feelings of inadequacy, feelings of worthlessness.
Psalm 139:1-6 NIV
1 You have searched me, Lord,Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Come on churches, if you are not already, embrace the invisible Christian. We are part of the community. No we can’t clean the church, run the Creche, serve coffee. Maybe we once did. Maybe we have never been able to. But that doesn’t matter. Maybe, just maybe we can join in an online prayer group, maybe even lead one, if cognition allows record a reading. Or maybe simply enjoy being acknowledged as being here by some form of hard copy communication, i.e. pen and paper or a phonecall.
Speaking of communication: When I first developed MEcfs in 2004, there were no social media or messaging Apps . Just press button brick or clam phones on which took such an age to send a text, one or two words were my limit. MySpace was popular with teens, and the advent of Facebook, along with email and instant messaging. FB the then still shrouded in mystery platform. Now a lifeline to many, but not all. I couldn’t use a computer due to lack of cognition and problems with screen glare, so most of what was out there was out of reach. Smart phones have changed lives.
You know how it goes, just one phrase can flip a switch which resonates throughout your whole being.
Well, that’s happened to me. I so cherish my church family which has grown online over the past few years. Which I never thought possible. I would have gone bonkers without them. And I will always love them. But I couldn’t always use technology. A lot of people can’t. Me and my artex ceiling became very good friends. As I stared at it for hour upon endless hour. Which was broken up by my concordance, loads of prayer, lots of messy tears and a few folk who kept in touch by hook or by crook. God I love them.
But on occasion the message from the non-understander was drip fed ‘when you come to church, you should be in church‘. And it stung. Right oh. Sigh. Another trip to A&E on the horizon along with basically saying I’m a failed Christian who may never reach God’s will of potential for me because I can’t cross the hallowed ground of the church coffee bar. And breath!
Are Homebound Christians Invisible?
Quite honestly, I still don’t know how homebound Christians are perceived. Mouthy? Disgruntled? Invisible? Lazy? Uncommitted? Sad? A lost cause? Annoying? Inconvenient? Opinionated? Out of touch? Boring? Brave? Inspiring? Too much effort? Forgotten? Defensive? Preachy? Sleepy? Lost?
And no, we don’t easily gel with everyone. That’s church community. We’re all a mess in our own way. Church isn’t easy, it tests us and our tolerance. Beneath all of what people perceive us to be, we are people first and foremost. Not the limitation. And as I discussed with my husband recently, being alone as a Christian is all well and good. But you can gradually and perhaps unwittingly creep into the territory of manufacturing a perfect unchallenged atmosphere, yet still desperate for connection. Which can become a bit sterile. I’ve been there. And it can feel empty. We need the interaction with people to help growth and thriving. This Finding Peace was written way back during my tentative steps.
I am sure many churches already do reach out with the invisible radar. But the number that don’t, an answer could lay in seeking out the invisible confined Christian, and letting them know they are seen. Or that the option exists if they want to be seen. In whatever unconventional way that might be. The sky is the limit. Well actually it isn’t, because God is infinite in His possibilities.
That’s my thoughts. Thanks for listening. Much love.
Have a blessed day⚘
How do you connect as one or with invisible Christians?