She was lying in the hospital bed staring blankly at the ceiling. When I said “Hello” it startled her but her smile was quick in coming. As we visited, I discovered that she was not from Odessa but had come in from a small town just to the west with serious health issues that involved a long stay under medical care; she had been in the hospital two weeks and was looking at another two… minimum. She had no kinfolk to speak of and a few friends; none of them had looked in on her. The real frustration, however, was not dealing with the pain (and there was plenty of it); it was not even the trepidation of upcoming operations and procedures so technical that they escaped her understanding. No, what was really working on her was just lying there.
For two weeks, her life had been on hold. Her garden was growing weeds, her mail was stacking up, and her house (which she kept clean as a pin) was collecting West Texas dust on every figurine that made up the memories of her life. And, she could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of pain, longing for her release and return to life.
One of the most rewarding activities in which a Christian can be involved is visitation. We understand its importance from passages like James 1:27, which states: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”; and again in James 5:14, which states: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” But, is the sum total of our concern expressed in a mere casual conversation that sympathizes with their unfortunate plight?
A Christian recently prayed in one of our worship assemblies, “Help us to show our love in more than hollow words” (or words to that effect, as best I can recall). I could not help but let a whispered “Amen” slip from my lips. No one would question that we are genuinely concerned about our sick, the homebound, or those under professional medical care, but do we have enough concern to sacrifice our time for their benefit? In the two verses from James, you will notice the implicit action involved: we must do something. This is consistent with all obedience to God, whether in evangelism, edification, or benevolence: we must do something!
No one denies that it is easy to get sidetracked into service that can overwhelm us but, honestly, how often is that happening today? In our congregation alone, we all know people who weekly, even daily, sacrifice their time, talents, and resources to comfort and assist members of the Family of God whose lives have been turned upside down by tragedy and trauma. We prepare and deliver food, or we fetch dry-cleaning or wash clothes, or even mow a lawn here or there. What a wonderful opportunity for our young people as an after-school project, to find some widow or widower to assist in some way? Young parents, have you ever seen the light in the eyes and brightness that shines from the faces of folks in nursing homes when you walk in with your small children? If you are retired, is your time so precious that you cannot spare an hour to cruise through the hospital and check on a member’s situation? Even those of us that are workaholics need to prioritize. How frustrating would it be to lie in a bed of affliction watching the world run by knowing full well that this hustle and bustle life was our very excuse for not doing what we should have been doing all along: visitation. Such sacrifices are jewels in the crown of a faithful Christian. Few notice, perhaps, but these deeds are not done to be seen of men but to the glory of God.
If you are not actively involved in godly benevolence, adopt someone who needs help. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). There is no more rewarding work than easing the frustrations of a life on hold. The Lord pleads with us, do not leave them just lying there.
(written 1/8/06 in Odessa, TX; Jeff Sweeten)