Wednesday, September 05, 2012

On Hospital Visits

I try to do hospital visits with people in my church whenever the occasion arises where I might do so. People go into a care facility for all sorts of reasons. Some are old. Some are younger. Some are gravely ill. Others are having some sort of surgery and will be back on their feet in a matter of days. I enjoy getting to visit with people in the hospital (they are, after all, a captive audience), and I feel honored having the opportunity to pray with them. Yet, there are often times where I feel like the whole practice of pastoral visitation in hospitals is kind of odd.

I come into the hospital room armed with my Bible and/or a prayer book. Everyone else walks in with gadgets and medications. I try to have a conversation in the midst of alarms ringing, medical professionals running in to administer tests, and family members trying to put on their best face for the "man of the cloth". I exchange pleasantries with the person who is ill. I ask about their condition. I try to read their mental or emotional state. If I notice something in that regard, I gently probe with some questions or statements that help me understand more of where that person is at. Eventually I pray with the person. Then, eventually, I make an effort to move out of the room (which usually takes at least 5 miniutes). Often, a family member will walk with me out of the room, and when we get some distance away from the room, I begin to offer them counsel, prayer, and comfort as well.

Often, though, I leave wondering if I really did any good being there. I begin to ask myself if my visiting a hospital is a wise use of my time and the church's money. I mean, is driving 110 miles round trip to Rapid City really necessary when I can maybe extend a visit to a half of an hour at most? Besides, what did I do to help that I could not have done over the phone?

I don't have all the answers to this question. But I have come to two conclusions. First, I think my presence means something because it symbolizes something bigger, namely the presence of God with the people in the middle of this dangerous and difficult time. Sometimes somebody being there is all that matters.

The second reason for the visit is more mystical than the first. Somehow, when I go to visit someone in distress, there is a mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit that is often present in a unique way, ministering to me and through me as I seek to be a witness and a caregiver to others.

Have you ever had pastoral visits while in the hospital? What were your thoughts/concerns about them?

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