We all know someone who is sick. We all probably know multiple people who are sick: fighting infections, battling cancer, enduring surgery after surgery, or even just dealing with the flu.
But sometimes, when we think about visiting them, we get a little hung up.
- What if there are a bunch of tubes and stuff?
- What if I can’t handle the smell?
- What if they aren’t very talkative?
- What if they are embarrassed by my being there?
- What am I supposed to do while I’m there?
I understand your hesitations. I have them, too, sometimes.
Yet, in Matthew 25:36 (NLT), Jesus teaches us to care for the sick when He says, “I was sick and you cared for me.” Other translations say, “…you looked after me” (NIV) and “…you visited me” (NASB).
Jesus Himself didn’t shy away from being around those who were sick. He reached out to them and healed many of them.
Brian Croft writes, “God has designed his people to care for one another as a powerful representation of his compassion for the weak and needy.” We can’t ignore the needs of others while they are feeling ill. We must reach out to them with compassion and care for them.
But on a practical level, what does it look like to encourage and care for these friends of ours?
Historical Examples of Christians Caring for the Sick and Vulnerable
With the current corona virus pandemic, we’ve seen how quickly things can spiral down when so many people are sick. And there have been mixed responses as to how to care for others while keeping our communities safe and protecting others.
Did you know that Christians have a history of taking care of the sick? During the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD) and Plague of Cyprian (251-266 AD), Christians cared for those who were sick.
“They began to take care of those who were sick, first in their own family and then in their own church and finally outside because they had already in the Book of Acts established deacons who supplemented the elders in providing acts of mercy. Deacons very quickly took on the ministry of mercy in the early Christian Church, and that became one of the best-known ways in which Christians were recognized.”Gary Ferngren
You can read more about the early Christian response here. Other examples include:
- rescuing babies with birth defects
- caring for the elderly who no longer contributed to society
- the Bubonic plague
- the AIDS epidemic
- running orphanages to care for abandoned and orphaned children
- the creation of hospitals
We have many inspiring examples to follow and learn from. So how do we care for those around us who are sick?
Practical Tips for Encouragement
Those who are sick, especially those who are chronically so, often fight against feelings of depression and worthlessness, too. They might be unable to do a lot for themselves, relying on those around them to do many of the physical tasks they used to do. They miss out on a lot of activities and routines that are healthy and life-giving for them.
“Compassion is the distinctive Christian contribution to health care.”Gary Ferngren
That’s one of the many reasons we need to show our love and care to them during this time. Be patient and understanding with them as they experience those emotions and work their way through them. Realize it might be awhile before they feel like themselves again–and that’s okay!
There are several ways you can reach out to and encourage someone who is not feeling well.
- Pray for them (and let them know you are praying).
- Send them a note or letter.
- Drop off a home-cooked meal.
- Mail them a care package with some of their favorite things and other meaningful gifts.
We have a list of 92 ways to encourage and support others. Check it out for more ideas.
Practical Tips for Visiting
There are times, however, when we must go beyond the ideas above and make an in-person visit to the person who is sick. But what do we do while we are there? How do we encourage them?
This will depend on what your friend needs and prefers. If they are more extraverted in nature and are having a “good day” in their illness, they might enjoy having a nice chat with you and hearing what you’ve been up to. If they are bed-ridden and bored, it might be nice to have someone play a game with them.
Here are some other ideas to get you started:
- Read the Bible to them, particularly stories about Jesus.
- Listen to music together.
- Check in with them and ask them questions, if they are willing to share that information with you. If they aren’t, don’t force them!
- Pray with them.
- Do a puzzle together.
- Sit outside on the porch and just “be” together.
If they are feeling depressed or frustrated, don’t necessarily do everything you can to cheer them up. Instead, focus on sitting with them in their pain and honoring them through that.
(Very) Practical Tips for Visiting
Okay, so let’s take it even further and talk about some of the details for these visits. I mean, we’re going to get VERY practical here.
If you’re someone who gets anxious around things like tubes or “sick” things like that, try to familiarize yourself with them before you go. Get used to seeing them so that it’s not such a shock to your system. Imagine what it might be like in your friend’s room. Picture them with tubes or machines hooked up to them.
If your stomach can’t handle the smells that might accompany someone’s illness, it might be best to plan just a short visit, or to stick with a phone call or video chat instead.
- Call ahead and plan your visit. Make sure that it’s a good time for your friend and that they won’t be in the midst of an appointment or procedure. This also gives them the chance to clean up a bit if they are able to and want to.
- Try not to stay longer than 30 minutes so you don’t wear them out. Too much excitement all at once can tire them more than you think.
- Don’t offer stories of your own experiences, or those of your friends or family members, unless you are asked about it. It doesn’t often help our sick friends to hear these stories.
Brian Croft has a great little book called Visit the Sick in which he offers even more specific advice to keep in mind:
- Make eye contact with them. Show them their value and worth as a human being created in God’s image. Show them you are interested in what they are saying, and that they have your full attention.
- Use appropriate touch. This will depend on their preferences as well as their illness, but let’s not cast those who are sick off like lepers. A light hug or a gentle hand on their arm can speak volumes to them.
- Be pleasant. Because who wants a grumpy person to visit them while they are sick? Smile and show with your body language that you want to be there. But don’t be super loud.
- Be perceptive. Be aware of your surroundings, like IV lines or the amount of light in the room. Sit close to them at eye level so they don’t have to strain to see you or hear you.
- Freshen your breath. And shower. Because we don’t want to smell bad to someone who is sick.
Visiting those who are sick is something God has called all of us to. Who in your life needs you to visit them or do a video call? Who is getting lonely or depressed or anxious because of their illness? Pause right now and ask God to show you the best way for you to reach out to them this week.
Check out Visit the Sick by Brian Croft for more on ministering God’s grace during times of illness.