The last few weeks have been rather intense at my congregation. We have had a lot of people in the hospital, at least for our small-medium sized congregation. Surgeries, treatments for various types of cancer and other long-term diseases, really all kinds of things. I would say this is all typical, but there is nothing “typical” for anyone who is suffering or ill. When you are in the midst of suffering, you are at the center. It is as if Satan (or God?) is pointing a great big spotlight on you and saying, “I wonder how they will react to this”.
In my congregation we are very blessed to have a deaconess. What this means in real congregational terms is that she and I tag-team making visitations. This is especially true when it comes to hospital calls. This way we are able to see to it that if someone is in the hospital, they will be visited more regularly. In the Sacramento area, hospitals span almost a 40 miles radius from church, through traffic. This, therefore, is really important.
I won’t deny it, seeing people who are sick or in the hospital is hard. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I want to see them, very much. But I know that it takes a lot out of me, more than I think it should. [Probably my pride there…grrrrr…]
Anyway, a part of what always goes through my mind when I’m making these calls is my own mother, Susan. She died of cancer nine years ago. This past Sunday was her 67th birthday, so she has been on my mind more than usual.
Anytime I get tired of making these calls (or shut-in visits, for that matter), a part of what goes through my mind is “how important were these visits to your mother?” She suffered from depression, as do I. As a result of that, it was very easy for her to isolate herself from family, from friends, from the church. There were weeks or even months when she didn’t darken the door of the church. A lot of it was the combination of illnesses, but certainly part of it was the reality that sickness isolates us, separates us from those we love. I’m pretty sure I didn’t help much with that isolation.
It is easy to let the feelings of despair encompass you when there are things or people poking and prodding you, when there is no discernible end to the latest “treatment”, and when you are tired, just plain tired of all of the, uh, gunk that you are having to deal with every day. But it is at precisely that time that you need a visit with God’s Word and prayer. The voices in your head will not help you. You need hope, and it is the God of hope and encouragement that will lift you up.
So to the pastors and deaconesses all the others who make these calls, evening when they don’t feel like it: thank you. Your labor is not in vain. They need you, so give them the goods of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take in their suffering, and care for them with the love that can only come from the One who loved us when we were yet sinners.
And to the parishioners and friends and others who are sick, or wrestling and struggling and in great need: let us visit you. You need that hope, and we want to see you. It’s who we are and what we do for the sake of God and all of your family of faith who love you. Call, text, email, Facebook (!), whatever means you need to do, let us know and we will be there. You will hear of the God who heals our sicknesses and infirmities, and who sits in that hospital bed with you, by your side, hurting when you hurt, and healing according to His good and gracious will.
Be at peace, friends! Jesus Christ has overcome the world, all sickness, and even death itself. The victory is yours.