If you want to see me, go to the hospital! This has been one of my go-to lines as a pastor for much of my ministry. I love making hospital visits. If I fail to visit someone in the hospital, I feel as if I have failed in ministry.
One of the things which drives me nuts in ministry is when a church member will tell me that they were in the hospital for 4 days last week. I usually scold them for not letting me know. I would have visited them.
Pastoral care is a critical component of pastoral ministry. The first church I served was in a small town with a good hospital. We made pastoral visits everyday, including Christmas Day. It was good training for a pastor still wet behind the ears.
Despite being a fanatic about making pastoral visits in the hospital, I am never sure I say or do the right thing when there.
I am always a nervous wreck when I first walk into a room. I never know what I will be facing – good news, bad news, death, pain, anger, tears, or fear. I only know that the patient is in the hospital because something is wrong. If they were a picture of health, they would not be there.
Before I enter a room, I pray. The prayer is simple, “Help me Jesus!”
You’d think after 30 years of training and ministry, I would bound into a hospital room full of confidence that I knew all the answers, that I knew what to say, and that I knew how to say it. But I don’t, every visit is unique.
The singular goal of my pastoral visit is to be a faithful and visible representative of our loving and healing Lord who is present. My hope is that when I leave the room the patient and family will know that God is with them during this time of crisis.
My presence is far less important than God’s.
This is why my patient visits are reasonably brief … listen, encourage, pray, and leave.
Family visits, particularly when waiting for news in ER or Surgical Waiting Rooms. are always longer. When life is in the balance, a minute feels like an eternity to an anxious loved one. While we wile away these long minutes chatting about trivia, I know hearts and minds are distracted by the uncertainty of the unknown.
I have been with families when they received heart-crushing news. After the doctor leaves, I will pray with the family. When we pray I will stumble over words and pause instead of offering pious platitudes. I doubt I have ever prayed a quotable prayer in these moments.
While I know that my words are grossly inadequate, I know the Spirit of God is present and will offer comfort and hope in this time of need.
Hospital always visits humble me. At best, I can hope that I was a faithful and visible reminder that God is with you in this time of crisis. It is the least I can do as His servant and your Pastor.