Word for Word 8/30/23

Pastor Laura Gentry
Pastor Laura Gentry

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help.” - Psalm 22:11

I’ve been a pastor for almost 25 years and in this capacity I have accompanied many suffering people. I’ve borne witness to all kinds pain - physical, emotional and spiritual. Sometimes the sufferer will cry out to the Lord in exasperation and even anger, wondering why they feel so alone.

In June, I was in a car accident serious enough to warrant a med flight and a nine-day hospital stay. I’m grateful that I survived and that my injuries, though serious, are healing. Before this experience, I don’t think I understood just how difficult it is to be the patient. It was quite an education and I can tell you that the view from the hospital bed is very different from the one next to it. It’s the worst.

Depending upon the extent of your injuries, you can get overwhelmed with all kinds of difficult emotions. Pain can bring you to a faith crisis. Worse of all, you may feel like you are alone. It’s terrible.

What’s also terrible is to be the friend or relative of someone who is suffering. When we see our loved ones hurting we wish we could instantly restore them to health. Unfortunately, we usually can’t do that. And it makes us feel helpless.

What I’ve learned through my recent experience, however, is that we are not helpless. We can reach out and bring healing to those who are suffering. It doesn’t even have to be in big ways. The smallest acts of kindness make a huge difference to the one who is hurting. We really do have the power to heal. Let me share a few ways that you can do just that.

An important thing you can do is pray for the person in need. Spend time each day lifting your loved one to God in prayer. If you’re at a loss for words, you can ask your pastor for a set of healing prayers to use or search for some online. You could also choose to read a Psalm during your prayers, such as Psalm 121 which affirms that Lord watches over us.

Another method is to sit quietly and visualize holding the person in your heart. Breathe in and out and feel your love for them. Trust that God loves them, too, and conclude by asking for specific healing.

Prayer makes a difference. In my own recovery, I was aware of how many people were praying for me. It gave me a deep sense of God’s presence and, I believe, sped up my healing process.

Text or Call
“I don’t want to bother them.” That’s what I often hear people say when they find out a friend is in distress. It makes sense that you don’t want to disturb someone who is undergoing medical treatment or recovery. It’s important to give them their space.

While some people may want to be left alone, most people don’t. I know I didn’t. We need to hear from our community. That’s how we can have the assurance that we’re loved and being prayed for.

You don’t have to be obtrusive. Just send a text. If they’re busy with their treatment they can ignore it or respond when it’s a more convenient time.

Talking on the phone or having a video chat with them can be really healing, too. Be aware that it takes a lot more energy for a hospitalized patient to talk in real time so it’s best to ask them if that’s what they’d like and then set up an appointment.

When I was in the hospital, I asked people to text me scriptures, jokes, poems and songs. I really appreciated the inspiration and laughter. One friend sent a video of her grandson singing a silly song and I played it over and over again. It was so nice to know that people were thinking of me. Use whatever technology you have to reach out to your loved ones. It only takes a moment to do but makes a big impact.

Write Cards
You can really brighten someone’s day with a handwritten card. It’s a simple gift that you can give. It takes effort but it’s certainly worth it if you want to communicate your concern.

I have a whole box of cards I received during my hospital stay and subsequent convalescence. They mean so much to me. A family from the church sent me a drawing that one of their children made. On it, he wrote:  “Feel Better.” I still have it up on my fridge and his caring wish is continuing to help me feel better.

Send Care Packages
It’s so much easier than it used to be to send packages. You can just order online and your loved one will receive the goodies in a couple of days. Small, practical gifts such as books, music, puzzles, coloring books, pajamas, or healthy snacks can be a game-changer for someone who’s in the hospital. It’s not about how much money you spend, it’s about the thought behind it. These things really do convey compassion.

Bring Meals
When someone is recovering after a hospitalization they need to be fed even if they have other members of the household who can cook. Most people won’t ask you to bring meals but if you offer, they will usually accept. Better yet, you can organize online with MealTrain.com so others can also volunteer to bring meals. The church I serve in Lansing, Our Savior’s Lutheran, did this for me. It was marvelous! So many people signed up and lovingly prepared meals for us. My husband and I looked forward to the home cooked food and the deliveries were the high point of my week.

Go and visit your ailing friend. I know it’s hard. Many people avoid visiting because they feel uncomfortable going into a space of suffering. This is human. We hate to see people in pain because it reminds us how precarious all of our lives are. Let’s just admit how terrifying that is. Yet we should visit, nevertheless. Our discomfort pales in comparison to the pain our loved ones are experiencing. They need us.

I’ve always known this and I’ve encouraged my church members to visit their friends who are injured, ill or dying. Yet, I didn’t realize until I was the patient how vitally important this is. I will never forget the people who came to see me in the hospital and in the months following. Their presence was a healing balm. It demonstrated the depth of their care and this was a gift of God’s grace.

Let me offer a few tips to help your visits go smoothly.

When your loved one is hospitalized, you can just pop in during visiting hours. Sometimes the surprise is really lovely. I know some of my unexpected visitors brought me to tears of joy. That said, hospital life is busy so if you can schedule your visit, it is more probable that they’ll be available when you arrive. It’s also exhausting to be hospitalized so don’t stay long. A rule of thumb is twenty minutes or less.

If the person you’re visiting is at a rehabilitation facility or their home, you can stay a bit longer, though I recommend no more than an hour. It’s also helpful to make an appointment and stick to it if you’re visiting their home. For a person recovering from a serious injury, it may take all day to get up the energy to visit with a friend. If you show up late they may be spent by the time you arrive.

People always ask me what they should say to a suffering friend. It can be awkward and we don’t want to say the wrong thing. I think that’s another reason people try to wiggle out of visiting the afflicted. If you’re worried about this, Google “What not to say to someone in the hospital.” There is a lot of good information out there about things to avoid saying.

There are some basic things that you can say that are helpful such as: I’m sorry you are going through this, I’m glad you are improving, I miss you, I am with you.

What you say, however, is not as important as how well you listen. Ask them how they’re doing. Don’t be afraid to let them speak their truth. It’s okay for them to talk about how bad it really is, to express themselves and let the tears flow. If you can bear witness to their struggle it will lighten their load.

Don’t try to fix them. Just let them know you are with them in their pain. In this way, you become the hands and feet of Christ for them.

And if you love them, tell them. Ultimately, it is love that heals us.

Rev. Laura Gentry
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church