Do This, Don’t Do That
Encouragement and cautions during health crises
Create a system for following up after you learn of health crises. This is especially important for those with chronic conditions, because “out of sight” too easily leads to “out of mind” if they are unable to make it to regular church gatherings.
And call them directly. Don’t rely on social media to know how they’re doing. Facebook can give you a false sense of connection. “I’ve made that mistake too many times,” says Matt Mitchell, pastor of Lanse (Pa.) EFC. “I’ve thought that I was tracking with someone because of social media awareness, but it turns out that they felt forgotten by their shepherd.”
Think practical. A close friend is often the one most welcomed-in, to listen during life’s toughest moments. But everyone can offer practical help to lighten the day-to-day load. Find out what needs have already been identified, and then jump in.
Be someone with whom it’s safe to acknowledge doubts and fears.
Always ask about pain. One pastor learned firsthand what pastoral visits felt like when he was struggling with a health issue. “Some of the people who came to visit me started talking about mundane things, when all I wanted to talk about was my pain and how to get rid of it,” says Mark Friz of Saint Paul’s EFC in St. Louis, Missouri. “When people are in pain, keep your visits short and, if appropriate, ask if you can get the nurse.”
Watch for exhaustion in caregivers. Consider offering an afternoon of respite care to give them a break, or donate toward weekly, ongoing respite care from experts.
Talk about the hard stuff. When someone is dying, don’t hesitate to sensitively ask about eternity. But be ready, too, to simply talk about the realities of their situation. Be someone with whom it’s safe to acknowledge doubts and fears. Steve Chamberlain, senior pastor of Branford (Conn.) EFC, shares what he often communicates: “Doctors can treat but only God heals. We are praying for healing, but unless God does something special here, I want to talk to you about the course of your illness and how you feel about it.”
Above all, show up. “While it is, of course, important to come at the right time, stay for the appropriate amount of time, say the right things, express the right feelings and follow up afterward, none of that is more important than demonstrating God’s love (and ours) through our presence,” says Brian Farone, director of biblical theology and credentialing for EFCA West. “This is still what I remind myself as I visit people who are suffering. I remind myself not to swing for the fences, but simply go to the plate and see what God does.”