Relationship Connection: I feel abandoned by my friends and church

Photo by Avosb iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

Question

I suffered a spinal trauma over 12 years ago and I am gradually getting worse with being able to function physically on a daily basis. My biggest heartbreak with my disability is that my church attendance has dropped over the past two years to where I cannot attend anymore. I cannot sit for even an hour without severe pain, whimpering, sweating, body jerks and twitches, and I feel that I am a huge distraction to those around me

My bishop called and told me he would make sure I was visited in my home. It has never happened! I tried going back about a year ago, but I felt overwhelmed by the rush of people trying to be first to welcome me back, when they purposefully avoid me in public. I had to leave before the opening song. One person actually lectured me for being too ornery to make meetings and I could not stop the flow of tears that overtook me.

My husband attends meetings. He says no one asks about me. They figure that because I look okay on the outside, I am okay on the inside.

I haven’t lost my faith, I am just disappointed in people. I do feel forgotten, abandoned, not worth a few seconds of anyone’s time to check on me, let me know I’m missed, that someone cares. My prayers have been answered that I need to have patience and keep believing and learning how to suffer alone until the time when I meet God and know that my tears have not gone unnoticed.

When will I be noticed when I spend most of my time in a recliner trying to just breath through my pain? And how many others suffer as I do and do not feel the true love we know we strive for?

Answer

You are in great physical and emotional pain and I can’t begin to imagine what this must be like for you. I want to be careful that I don’t trivialize your experience in my response. You are asking me to help you make sense of why people have abandoned you. While I can certainly make educated guesses about their motives, I believe I can be more helpful to you by exploring what you can do to respond to these injuries so you don’t continue to feel powerless and victimized.

You are working too hard to hold onto hope for a better world where your suffering will end and you’ll be comforted. Even though God promises that he will eventually “wipe away tears from off all faces,” I want to encourage you to keep learning from your painful experiences to deepen your connection to God, yourself and those around you. The Apostle Paul taught that we can gladly “glory in our infirmities” and even “take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake.” And, ultimately, he concluded that when “[we are] weak, then [we are] strong.”

You may wonder how your suffering can be help others. All of our struggles, weaknesses, prejudices and pains are actually gifts to others around us. The late Eugene England shared this most encouraging perspective:

Paul teaches that all the parts of the body of Christ, the church, are needed for their separate gifts — and, in fact, that those with ‘less honorable’ and ‘uncomely’ gifts are more needed and more in need of attention and honor because the world will automatically honor and use the others. It is in the church especially that those with the gifts of vulnerability, pain, handicap, need, ignorance, intellectual arrogance, social pride, even prejudice and sin — those Paul calls the members that ‘seem to be more feeble’ — can be accepted, learned from, helped and made part of the body so that together we can all be blessed. It is there that those of us with the more comely and world-honored gifts of riches and intelligence can learn what we most need — to serve and love and patiently learn from those with other gifts.

But that is very hard for the ‘rich’ and ‘wise’ to do. And that is why those who have one of those dangerous gifts tend to misunderstand and sometimes disparage the church — which, after all, is made up of the common and unclean, the middle-class, middle-brow, politically unsophisticated, even prejudiced, average members. And we all know how exasperating they can be! I am convinced that in the exasperation lies our salvation, if we can let the context that most brings it out — the church — also be our school for unconditional love. But that requires a change of perspective.

You have chronic pain and emotional hurts while your church community appears to have a lack of sensitivity to your condition. According to Dr. England’s explanation, they need you and you need them for your growth and refinement. It’s understandable that you would feel like giving up on them and refuse to continue finding ways to be involved in the lives of those around you.

However, this is exactly what will bring you the greatest growth and lasting happiness. Continue to build your relationship with your good husband and God as a way to gain the strength to know where else you can reach out for connection to others. You might find places where you can make contributions in your church and community. It may not look like the way you’ve imagined in your mind. For example, instead of people coming to sit with you and support you in your pain, you might be led to become involved in a simple service activity where you can make a small, but meaningful, contribution. I love this example of a woman with a chronic illness who chose to focus on what she could do.

Linda Burton, general Relief Society president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said:

A certain woman who has blessed my life for decades has battled for the past 15 years the debilitating, difficult and progressive disease called inclusion body myositis. Though confined to her wheelchair, she strives to be grateful and keeps up her “Can Can List”: a running list of things she can do, such as I can breathe, I can swallow, I can pray and I can feel [God’s] love.

There is so much you can do. Please don’t believe that your only option is to passively wait for people to notice you. It will embitter your heart and make it hard to trust others when they do show love. I know it will feel risky to continue reaching out to others and ask for support. It will be difficult to invite others into your life. You will struggle to attend, even if for a short time, activities and service opportunities. Your heart is hurt and you long for connection. As you work to keep yourself connected and involved, you are offering these gifts of your suffering to those around you. And, they are offering their gifts of ignorance, lack of awareness and insensitivity to you. You are both helping each other grow. And, as you know, growth only comes through resistance and struggle.

I recognize this is a counterintuitive way to view personal weakness, but I promise you that you will find great purpose in seeing these struggles in this light. You don’t have to retreat to your home and suffer in isolation and darkness. Keep reaching for connection and keep calling on your courage.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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22 Comments

  • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I’m going to assume when you say church, you are talking about the LDS church. Does it matter what church? No. But the assumption I’m making is based on location.

    Please do not look at other people on the outside as your barometer for peace within. We all at some point have felt the way you feel, abandoned by someone. Do not look at the circumstances, but instead, focus on your reaction to the circumstances.

    I’m am curious about what you are looking for other people to do to make you feel better? I’m in no way minimizing your loneliness and disconnect with people. Just curious.

    It’s not the circumstances that you have control over. It’s your reaction to the circumstances that you have control over.

    I am also curious if you feel abandoned by your husband. Do you feel a betrayal that he participates in a church that has people attending that don’t ask about you? I certainly would feel abandoned and betrayed by him.

    God loves you and that’s all that matters. Praying for your peace of mind and comfort. Had a blessed day!

    • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 9:23 am

      *Have a blessed day!

  • theone November 8, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Another example of the delusional love religion perpetrates on its flock. I hope you find a way to realize religion is a fairy tale and makes people act in ways they normally wouldn’t.
    Just be glad you’re not Gay.
    I wish I could live long enough to see the day man has stopped believing in a god that’s not there so we can treat each other with real love.

    • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      What is this real love you speak of? Is it th e kind of love you have for me?

      • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm

        😁

        • theone November 8, 2017 at 2:19 pm

          I love and accept you for who and what you are unlike religion love where you fall out of grace and the love stops.

          • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm

            I don’t want to be part of any religion or group that is like that either.

            All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

            I’m a believer and you’re not.

            Wazzzzzzup! There was a time I was a rebellious, angry at the world, and did what i could to go against God. I was so mad at God. But He showed me my anger is strong, and His love is stronger. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I do expect you to call me delusional and believer of a fairytale tho. \_(♡_♡)_/

            Love ya theone

          • comments November 8, 2017 at 5:03 pm

            lol

  • PatriotLiberal November 8, 2017 at 10:30 am

    My suggestion is this: Get out and do something. Take a class, read to the elderly, or children. Volunteer at the thrift store, nanny for some friends kids, etc. There are literally thousands of ways to ‘do something’ besides sit around and mope. If you do that, even an hour a week, you’ll be happier, trust me.

  • comments November 8, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Well, I’m still an (on the books) mormon. I actually used to attend meetings quite frequently. One thing that drives me crazy is the facade of niceness a lot of mormons will put on. “Church friends” are a lot different than real friends. If they don’t still want to be around you when you’re not attending church these aren’t real friends at all. It’s an extremely shallow religion, and I believe 99% of it is about appearances and ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’. I actually think it’s no wonder that LDS mormonism drives so many people to suicide. There’s a lot of other churches around here besides mormonism if you want to get your weekly fill of Jesus, and I believe you’ll find people from these other churches to be a lot a lot more genuine, as a general rule. One reason is that they actually want to be there, and it’s not just a habitual/cultural thing, except for maybe the catholics. You won’t get to hear constantly about Joseph smith and the “one true religion” blah blah blah. That could be a plus or minus depending on you. I don’t really have the stomach for any sort of churches anymore. It all just gives me a headache, plus I’m an “atheist” of sorts.

    • comments November 8, 2017 at 11:07 am

      As far as the chronic pain, that’s a tough one. Hope you can find some way to cope

    • PatriotLiberal November 8, 2017 at 11:21 am

      It depends on who makes up the congregation.

    • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      They havent erased you from their book yet? Geeeeze, do you want me to send them a letter with an eraser to get rid of your name?

      • comments November 8, 2017 at 5:02 pm

        lol, u gotta send them some kind of certified letter requesting to get off their books, and even then I’m not sure they remove you permanently. I know I’m already on their “naughty list” because I never paid them when I was an “active member”. More than once the Bishop brought me in for a firm chit chat for not paying, but at least I didn’t get a spanking. The whole thing is ridiculous and I don’t care if I’m on their books. They never send anyone around to try and re-recruit me anyway, and I figure that’s also because I’m on the “non-payer naughty list”. At the end of the day the LDS system is all about the cold hard cash $$$. Back in the good old days they’d let a guy have like 50 wives, but modern mormonism… I mean, really, what’s the point? Endless boring meetings, working for free in “callings”, forking cash over… No thanks. If they had little missionaries coming by all the time to “reactivate” me I’d get myself taken off thier books, or at least try. But I aint no pay pig and they know it so they don’t bother, lmao.

        • ladybugavenger November 8, 2017 at 7:45 pm

          I wonder if they have a log that says, Bob owes…x amount of dollars, we cant close his account.

          • comments November 8, 2017 at 8:16 pm

            Yup, I owe a lot of years of back tithing lol

  • Sapphire November 8, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    This is such a sad situation for you. This may sound harsh, but it isn’t the responsibility of others to entertain you or comfort you. People are good for short term, such as bringing a meal or helping with housework after surgery. Some will be happy to perform a specific task for you, go to the store. Family will often extend themselves to a larger degree. But each of those other people have their own work, problems, and health issues to deal with every day, too. Life isn’t easy on anyone. It can be a downer to see someone never get better. There are those who may think you must have done something awful to not be blessed by God to get better. There are others who may annoy you with platitudes like God must love you so much to give you so many challenges. Ugh! I too live in constant pain, but I just do what I can and make my own life as best I can and try hard to not complain especially to my spouse. It is hardest on them. Being disabled is very hard. Spinal problems can affect all sorts of functions and bring incredible pain, but you just have to remember how amazing the gift of life is… to see and hear and feel. No other animal comprehends the way we do. So you pull yourself together, and get yourself through the day or hour or even minute when it is that bad. And research! I have found many things that have helped me manage my pain instead of drugs.

    • comments November 8, 2017 at 10:20 pm

      Could be the truth. Could be that people simply don’t like her and don’t want to be around her. As far as “visiting teachers” or “home teachers” or whatever they’re called now in LDS lingo, people assigned to do it simply don’t like to do it much of the time, and so they simply don’t. Even less of a chance of them doing it if they don’t like the people they’re assigned to

      • comments November 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

        There might be chronic pain support groups out there, and that’s what i’d recommend. It’s possible she’s exhausted LDS mormonism as a viable social outlet.

  • STGLivekindly November 9, 2017 at 8:30 am

    To “comments”. You seem to view yourself as an expert on the LDS Church, yet you don’t go and speak negatively of it. I’ve known many members who could never pay tithing, but received great benefits from the church. Did you know of people like this when you were going? If you had the means to pay your tithing and didn’t, then that is your choice, but I know that paying tithing brings blessings. I’m sorry that you denied yourself those. I joined when I was 21, some 30 years ago. A shallow religion, it is certainly not. The people are not perfect, yet all those not participating in the faith seem to think they should be. Why? If you wanted to remove your membership, you would have done it already. Clearly, you do not want to. And for that, I’m grateful.

    • comments November 9, 2017 at 11:58 am

      I see no reason to have my membership removed. I’ve been on their books since I was 8yrs old; what would even be the point of it? Nothing to gain from it on my end. I’ll always have some connection to mormonism since I was born in UT and born into the religion. I don’t believe any of it in the least and I don’t like the church, but it’ll always be… something I’ve lived. So I’m never gonna go all nuts about sending in letters of resignation and trying to get off their books, plus I don’t want the local bishop coming by for a chit chat if I was to send in a letter. I simply don’t care enough to bother with it. I was never heavily into the religion in the first place, so I’m not out anything

  • youcandoit November 9, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    I can empathize I found out who my real friends are. I have a rare spine disease it’s very painful. You have to count your blessings look at the positive at least you have a significant other. I have to push myself hard to volunteer even if I can power through for half an hour then I pay for it later with body flares. I’m writing a book about how to stay positive in situations like this. I’ve tried reaching out to the people I thought were my friends. Oh well their loss

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