This is a subject that is not commonly discussed in a young people’s periodical, the subject of visiting the sick, elderly and shut-ins. The busy life, the many interests that take up the hours of the day leave little time for thinking about others who may be weak and frail, afflicted with some ailment; lying alone on some weary hospital bed, or just hindered from getting around by the weaknesses of old age.
Yet the exercise of Christian mercy must also have a place in our youthful lives. As members of the body of Jesus Christ, we are closely knit together by the bond of faith that unites us to Jesus Christ. Even as head and body are inseparable and dependent upon one another, we also we need one another for our spiritual welfare and growth.
There is no doubt but that you are aware of that, at least to a degree. At occasion you do go out to sing at rest homes and the homes of shut-ins, even bringing them a basket of fruit in the holiday season. No doubt some of you have acquaintances who are advanced in years or hindered from getting around freely, and whom you visit on a regular basis.
Yes, you likely send a card to those who need a bit of comfort. Some of you, as I once did, may think that a card is somewhat a waste of effort. People receive them, maybe by the dozens, glance through them, and soon dispose of them. But anyone who has been in the hospital, or has been laid up at home, or does not get out of the house freely, appreciates the fact that others still think of him or of her. Mail call means so much to those who are confined to their homes, the hospital, or institutions. It is so little effort, and yet so greatly appreciated, especially if the sender takes time to jot down just a line or two. Many downcast spirits are cheered by knowing that others care.
Yet it is true that a visit means so very much more, particularly when that visit is made by a pleasant, enthusiastic boy or girl from the church. There are elderly people in the church who will eagerly show you a picture of some young person who shows interest in them, drops around occasionally to chat with them, and runs an errand or helps in some small way to make their life a bit easier. They will fondly refer to the person on the picture as their adopted son or daughter. There are many lonesome people in most any congregation. At one time they were active members, possibly taking a prominent place among the saints, but either through illness or some infirmity no longer leave their home except when absolutely necessary. During inclement weather they rarely get out. Just a short time ago one elderly couple made the remark, we sit here day after day looking at and caring for each other, but rarely do we see visitors. That makes for long days, with nothing but meals break up the monotony of the slowly moving hours. Anyone who has visited the Holland Home in Grand Rapids, or some rest home, will have noticed how these elderly people begin to move toward the dining room at least a half hour before meal time. How they appreciate having someone drop in on them, someone who will speak with them of the spiritual things that lie closest to their hearts, someone who will read to them from the Scriptures or from our church periodicals, giving them an opportunity to rest their weary eyes. Have you never called on anyone, wondering what to say, and then coming away shamefacedly, since you thought to bring them a word of comfort and cheer, while they were spiritually far ahead of you and gave you some real food for thought? Or haven’t you brought some goodies or some other small gift to a shut-in, and then gone home marveling how much that meant to them, while it took such little effort on your part?
As important as it is to take time out to speak a word to the weary, there are, nevertheless, certain considerations that should be kept in mind.
There are people who are hard to visit. Maybe they have a hearing problem, so that you are reluctant to call on them, because you have to shout yourself hoarse to be heard. You keep putting off a visit like that. But there are many like you, so that, if anybody, these people are often neglected. You may have to raise your voice, so that you are heard from the living room to the kitchen, you may have to get right up to the ear of this person to get through to him, but this poor soul needs comfort and assurance, possibly more than others. There may be a person who is almost a complete invalid, who cannot utter a word, and therefore cannot converse with you. That makes a visit extremely difficult, and might make you think twice before you venture out. In that case, you do well to plan in advance a one-sided conversation, so that you will not make the person uncomfortable with your long pauses and hesitations. You’ll be surprised how interested such a person is even in mere trivialities that take place in the church. You can always read to those suffering from aphasia, and often they can enjoy singing along with you, if not audibly, certainly from the heart.
Sometimes the sick person is too sick to converse, or may even be in a coma. Maybe you are not alone when you make your visit, or maybe your other visitors arrive while you are there. The most natural thing to do is to start conversing together, almost ignoring or forgetting the patient. Little do we realize how trying that is for the patient, who cannot warn you of what misery he or she is in. You may get involved together in a lively discussion, which you really enjoy, but in the meantime, you have left the sick person in dire agony, eager to scream, if that were possible. I recall one instance in which the nurse came into the room, took in the situation at a glance, and marched out the visitors with the remark that the patient needed her attention right now.
To mention one other instance, an elderly man lay in a coma at death’s door. Part of the family and a visitor were talking together, raising their voices and laughing as they became the more involved in their conversation. Maybe they thought that the man in the coma could not hear them. Maybe they forgot about him. In any case, the minister entered, realized what was going on, asked them either to leave the room or to be quiet, while he stepped up to the bed, talked to the man so near the gates of eternity, prayed with him, and received a nod of appreciation. It is said, that the last of the senses that leaves a person before death is the sense of hearing. One family in particular was not aware of this, and was making funeral arrangements alongside the bed. It was the nurse who warned them that mother could hear and understand everything that they were saying.
Yet none of these things should deter us from visiting the sick and the shut-ins. This is part of our Christian stewardship in seeking each other’s welfare. The communion of saints is also a part of the office of every believer.
Just a final remark. A chaplain in a hospital once said, “Jesus said, ‘I was sick and ye visited Me’; He could have added, ‘and ye did not stay long.’” That is worth remembering.
But also this: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Matthew 25:40