This morning James and I had the privilege of visiting with two different women who are walking through very difficult times. Both are godly women who are facing scary and uncertain physical problems.
One friend is a bit older than us and just said goodbye to both of her parents this year. Her mother had suffered from Alzheimer's for several years. Her father had tended to his bride to the very end and then joined her in heaven only months after her departure. Now it appears our friend, on top of continuing her familiar battle with MS, may be dealing with this same terrifying disease. She was very lucid when we visited with her this morning, but she openly confessed to having many strange dreams, delusions, and blank moments. Her health is not good and her mind fails her frequently.
We had breakfast with the other woman and her husband before they left to have her CT scan. This younger woman will be meeting with a neurosurgeon tomorrow to discuss the findings and his plan for treating her. We already know, due to previous tests, the prognosis will be grim at best. Regardless of today's test, she will have to fight to live.
I don't normally embrace opportunities to visit the sick. Count it against me if you will, but I have never felt comfortable in their presence. I don't feel like I have anything to offer, I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing, and, perhaps most of all, I'm humbled by their battle. I feel I have no right to offer them anything. I've not been there, yet, and I have no clue what they are feeling. Still, my love and concern for these two ladies propelled me to do what was very difficult for me because I knew it was important. I knew it was right.
This post is not about the plight of those who are waging a battle against illness. While God has graciously helped me to move past my fears so that I can at least minister to these folks in some small way, I certainly have not been close enough to that kind of pain to write about it with any measure of knowledge or perception. I'm sure the day will come when God will see fit to increase my acquaintance with such a battle, but up to this point we have only had a few small scares. They didn't seem that small at the time, grant you, but looking back they pale in comparison to the uncertainties these two women face.
This post is about those of us who walk with those who are hurting, those who are sick, those who are facing grim news. And perhaps not so much those who are walking arm in arm with them, but more specifically those who are watching from afar as someone dear, but not so close, walks through a season of difficulty.
What is there to do?
I heard from these women (and a concerned husband) this morning several things that I can do. They requested some actions; others were implied. But this is what I heard:
- Pray. Obviously. But don't just say you'll pray. Stop right there and offer a simple prayer in their presence. Ah, to know that someone is beseeching the God of this universe on your behalf. I'm not anymore comfortable praying in front of people than the next person. For some reason everyone assumes ministers and their spouses just automatically know how to pray eloquent prayers. False. I just stumble all over my words like everyone else. But I committed years ago that any time I visit someone who is sick or hurting or grieving, I will at least ask if I can pray for them. No one has ever told me no. And I've never prayed a masterful, inspiring prayer. I've just talked to God on their behalf. More than once people have told me, with tears in their eyes, that I was the only one who offered to pray with them. That doesn't make me special, just obedient. I encourage you to pray with those who often can't word their own prayers because they are in such a state of grief or worry.
- Call. Pick up the phone or knock on their door, but make personal contact. Of course we need to use a little discernment and good judgment. Some people don't want a lot of visitors and others need their rest. But I think it's better to err on the side of being turned away rather than making the mistake of never showing up. Illness and grief breed isolation. And isolation breeds more illness and grief. I've already confessed that I have great difficulty making a visit to a hurting person. But I have to get over that and do what is best for the other person. When I do make a visit, I simply pray for God to carry me every step of the way and to help me not say anything that might be hurtful. He hasn't failed me yet.
- Protect. Those who are walking closest to the sick or grieving person often bear such heavy loads and are under the scrutiny of everyone looking in; they need those who are a little more detached from the situation to walk with them. My parents have a ministry to caregivers. They work through Hospice and relieve those who are caring for dying people so they can run a few errands, get their hair done, or just have some time to themselves. I know my mom and dad often feel like they're not able to do enough for these weary people and sometimes they feel they are more in their way than helpful. But I imagine their assistance is more needed and appreciated than they often ever realize. Tired caregivers may not be able to offer a lot of appreciation. They're exhausted and drained. But they need others to come along and hold them up, offer a little refreshment, and give some perspective. One of our friends we visited this morning made only one request of us - that we protect her husband from the judgment of others. She knew from experience that sometimes people judge harshly those who are caring for an ailing spouse. She just wanted to know that someone would be there to defend him if that happened.
- Relieve. Our other friend made a different request. She just wanted to know that her responsibilities at work and at church would be taken care of. Obviously it is hard for her to even lay those responsibilities down, hopefully temporarily. But since her doctor has told her that she must concentrate on getting well, she knows she must let go for now. And she needs to be assured that things are being taken care of. My husband is trying to get everything taken care of quickly so that she can know who is stepping in for her and she can face her crisis with confidence that her beloved students will not suffer.
Maybe you are like me and this is not an easy fit. No excuse. Let's not let anyone walk through the valley alone. Even if we ourselves are on a mountain top while they are walking in the valley below, at least we can shine a little light on their path, encourage them with compassionate words, relieve them of some of the load, and pray them through.
If you are in a valley today, my heart goes out to you. Please consider that not everyone knows what to do to help you. Be patient with us. Tell us what you need. Most importantly, tell God what you need. He will never fail you even if I do.