A friend on the staff of a large church emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors had told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they were standing by, waiting for God to take her home.
The friend asked if I could visit this family.
An hour later, I was in their hospital room.
The patient lay there heavily sedated, while family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly. They greeted me warmly, having been informed that I was coming.
Two things about this family I found amazing. They had lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and this one in my city for over 40 days. And yet, there was such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.
The question I face
That brings me to my dilemma, one I have frequently encountered when calling on the families of Godly people going through various kinds of crises: Do I enter into their joy or remain outside?
By “their joy,” I refer to the victory in Christ which the Lord has given them in the midst of their incredible suffering. Only those who have been there know this “peace that passes understanding.”
A second question is: If I “enter their joy,” how deeply do I go?
Do I laugh with them and participate in their victory–even though I have not shared their grief–to the point of telling stories and sometimes getting off subject? Or should I remain the consummate professional who never forgets his role, that of spiritual adviser and counselor?
Either way carries risks and rewards.
I have sometimes attempted to match the joy of the family as we laughed and visited, told stories and reminisced, but later wondered if they felt I did not fully appreciate the pain they were enduring. It was fine for them to be laughing and joyful, but was mine appropriate?
In truth, to remain outside what they are experiencing and merely “mail in” my scriptures and prayers, then get up and leave, is foreign to my nature. And yet, the times I have seen a minister or chaplain do this well, I have been blessed and filled with admiration.
Well, here’s what I did: I met each person in the room, enjoyed the banter as they talked among themselves, shared some of their stories and a couple of mine, and one thing more. I sketched each one. (It’s what I do.) They even brought out a photo of the daughter who was lying there in the bed, a smiling happy portrait, which I sketched for them. We shared some scripture thoughts and I prayed with them, and left.
The visit might have been 20 minutes. Not overstaying in a hospital visit is a huge thing for me.
The father accompanied me to the elevator, still radiating the joy and peace of the Lord. His spiritual gift is encouragement, he said, and these hospital waiting rooms have given him so many opportunities for ministry.
I am in awe. The way they handled this greatest of all burdens which life can hand a person–the loss of a child–is so remarkable.
The next day I received a note from a friend from thirty years ago. She was remembering when her mother lay dying in the hospital room, fretting and fearful. “Then, you came to visit her. You said exactly what she needed to hear, and the scriptures you shared were so perfect. After your visit, she had such a wonderful peace. The Lord took her home the next day. We are forever grateful.”
I had no memory of this. But I am more grateful than she is, I imagine, because I am so capable of getting this wrong.
The hardest part for me on visiting a family in crisis is gauging the direction and intensity of their emotion and trying to relate to them in a way that will matter most.
Scripture calls on us to Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). That is the goal.
Doing it is another thing altogether.
Post Script: Twenty-four hours later, a note from my friend said the young lady on life support had just taken her last breath of earthly air and is now inhaling the celestial kind. Blessed be the name of the Lord.