Please allow me to begin this article with a personal story. When I was around 5 or 6 years of age, I enjoyed spending time with my Dad. He was a pastor of a church, and was well respected in the community. We lived in a church parsonage, and I would often walk across the yard to go see Dad while he was in his office at the church. I usually wanted him to come play baseball with me. Many times he would. Sometimes he needed to go make “visits” and he allowed me to go with him on most occasions. These visits were in hospital rooms, nursing homes, and private homes. Dad always told me what to expect. I completely trusted my Dad and knew that I was safe. Sometimes we went to the homes of elderly individuals who were not able to come to church. Those people loved it when Dad would come, but they usually asked where I was if I were not with him.
Once Dad and I went to visit a lady, and I had not been with him on the most recent visit. She jokingly told me that she told Dad, at the end of that previous visit, that he should not come back without me. Other times we went to the homes of individuals that had a loved one who had recently passed away. Many times I knew the person who had died. I remember him saying, “Now, we are going to see the family, and there may be people crying, but it will be ok. You can cry too if you want to. We need to be with this family and see if we can help.” Dad and I would walk into the home and the people would just start to smile, even if they were also crying. Dad and I did not say anything that caused them to smile in the middle of their struggle. It was just the fact that we chose to come. Looking back now, I will always be grateful to my Dad because I never developed a fear of being with people who are suffering. I also realize that an individual’s presence with someone who is suffering or struggling is much more valuable than anything the person can say.
Dr. Leigh Conver was one of my pastoral counseling professors in seminary. He used to say, “Job had three friends. They did great for a week, and then opened their mouths and messed it all up.” For that week, they just sat with him. Every individual has experiences in life that are real life struggles. Sometimes those difficulties are experiences that the individuals create; some are the results of the actions of other people, or struggles that happen accidentally or by some genetically pre-dispositional illnesses. When situations like that occur, often times others want to go and see that person to provide support. Yet, they do not because they don’t know what to say. As long as a person does not say anything that is rude or completely inappropriate, what that person has to say is not that important. We probably cannot answer the difficult questions about why things happen any more than Job’s friends could. Only God can say, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” The goal of your visit is to give a person comfort, a sense of belonging, and the assurance that he or she is not struggling alone. The presence of another person is what provides that, and not what that individual has to say.
In our society today, we have millions of people in long-term care nursing facilities. Statistically, 85% of those, who do not have family members that live close by, almost never have visitors. Be encouraged not to worry about what you might need to say, and just go to see someone who is struggling whether that individual is in a nursing home or is a friend who lives nearby. Once you get past the fear of seeing someone struggle, your presence will give him or her joy that he or she cannot get any other place. You also will have “peace that passes all understanding” because God will use your presence as an instrument of healing.