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Growing up, I remember debating with friends which superpower we would want. Superhuman strength to bend steel? X-ray vision to see through walls? To be as fast as a speeding bullet? To fly? To be invisible?

Turns out, I know a lot of “invisible” people these days. But, it’s not the superpower I imagined it to be.

Our third child was diagnosed with ALL (leukemia) when he was 3 1/2 years old. In the first eight months of treatment, it was clear to everyone that he was going through something. The bald head usually gave it away. He alternated between being puffy from the steroids and losing weight from no appetite. After the initial rounds of treatment, his hair grew back, and he was not on steroids as often. We noticed that people no longer asked how treatment was going. When we would miss events and activities because he was hospitalized, people’s reaction was often “Oh, he’s still got that?” and that was the end of the conversation. We started to become invisible.

In my work as a pastor, I have found that there are many invisible people in our communities. Chronic illness and long-term suffering are all around, yet these illnesses and the people who carry them remain largely invisible. There is a multitude of reasons we don’t know what’s happening in the lives of others. While we are more connected than ever through social media, suffering is not something that receives likes, comments, or followers. So, people stay silent. Others are weary from battling with doctors and even family and friends to get them to believe them when they say that something is wrong with their body. Too often, their words are met with a pleasant smile and a “Well, all your labs look good.”

I remember sitting at a hospital bedside learning about all the events that were happening in a parishioner’s life. A recent bitter divorce and ongoing custody dispute, a new child in a new relationship, financial difficulties, and tension with the new stepchildren. It didn’t surprise me that the individual was not feeling well. As we finished praying, the doctor arrived and announced they couldn’t find any cause for the health issues. She could go home. I had discovered plenty of causes for her physical symptoms, many of which would not be helped with another pill or medication.

One striking aspect of the Gospels is that over and again Jesus sees people where they are. Seeing James and John as they fish, he says, “Come, I’ll teach you to fish for people.” He sees the bleeding woman in the crowd. Zacchaeus up a tree. The blind man at the gate by Jericho. Jesus sees people and calls to them. He engages them where they are. The crowd told the blind man not to bother the teacher. They urged him to stay invisible. But Jesus sees him. “Quick! On your feet, the teacher is calling you.” In other words, you are seen (Mark 10:49).

In a world that seems increasingly insular, one of the most important things the Church can do is to see people.

The chipper high schooler who always has a smile on her face suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and is in near-constant pain. She is present but invisible.

The recently retired manager who was always a leader in the church quietly disappears from sight, certain that everyone can see the shakes in his hands from Parkinson’s. He tries to become invisible so as not to be a bother.

The cancer survivor who “beat cancer” struggles daily with brain fog that clouds her thinking, and drop foot which prevents her from walking as fast as she used to. She’ll stay home from that shopping trip with the girls because she’ll just slow them down. She becomes invisible.

The young woman who has been to different doctors and had all sorts of tests. They all agree something is not right, but none of them will give her a diagnosis, or suggest what to do. She finally quits going, and politely says “good” when asked how she is, even though most days the pain in her joints feels like fire, and the headaches mean she can’t get out of bed. She’s invisible.

All of these people need the hope that comes from the gospel of Christ. But I believe before they can hear the redemption story and its implications for suffering today and tomorrow and eternity, they first need to be seen.

As a pastor, I’ve had the privilege to sit at bedsides, in living rooms, and over a cup of coffee and hear stories like these, and I wonder, how can we provide space for others besides the pastor to listen?

How can the church provide space and welcome for those who are invisible to become visible? Like Jesus, how might we see, draw near, welcome, and listen?

* * * * *

This reflection was sparked by conversations as part of the Faith and Illness Initiative, hosted by the Girod Chair at Western Theological Seminary. Applications for pastors to participate in Year Two: Chronic Pain and Christian Discipleship are opening soon! More information is available at

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Ross Davidson

Ross Davidson is the pastor of Heartland Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. He is a husband and father, and has more interests than time.


  • RZ says:

    Listening. Something we ALL CAN do. Thank you. And those to whom much ( non-suffering) has been given, much is expected.

  • Harvey Kiekover says:

    How often we look at people but don’t see them. We are like the disciples who looked at the man born blind but didn’t see him. Jesus truly saw the man–and ministered to him. .

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Listening and seeing are good, but we also need to recover the biblical tradition of lament. We like to rush in to fix or solve problems or to pray for solutions but we are not very good at lamenting while waiting for help to come. We are even worse at dealing with help that never comes or comes too late. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me/us/them? It is an honest question with no easy answer and no quick solution…

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