Loving the Sick
All of us have had opportunities to love and care for sick people in our lives. Most of us have said something well intentioned that ended up causing pain instead of comfort. So what can we say to those in the midst of pain?
Let’s start with what the sick want to hear. We all want to feel loved. We all want to feel thought of and cared for. Perhaps, most of all, we want to be encouraged.
So how do we communicate our intentions?
First, let’s start with honesty. The last thing anyone wants to hear is fake compassion. If your heart isn’t moved for the person you’re with, adjust your heart or keep your mouth shut. Insincerity is easy to spot.
Second, perhaps the most encouraging thing you can say is how much you’re praying. “I’ll pray for you” is an empty promise that many of us have offered and never delivered on. Equally uninsuring is the “I will (or am) praying for you every day.” Again, unless you’re immediate family or have an amazing prayer intercession reputation, it’s hard to believe. What is reassuring are comments like, “I prayed for you twice this last week” or “I am going to try to remember to pray for you every day for the next week.”
Third, share what God puts on your heart. I want to qualify that by saying, be sure it’s encouraging. I have heard more than one person share something that God put on their heart that caused pain, damage, and suffering. Perhaps I’ll share more about encouragement some other time, but for now understand your role in the ministry of reconciliation and representing the heart of God who is always encouraging, even when we are rebuked. Some of the best things I have heard in my sickness were those moments when others shared, “God asked me to pray for you.” I remember God speaking to me about the prayers of others and said, “I wouldn’t prompt people to pray for you if I had no intention of answering their request.” I am aware that I have been prompted to pray for others who were not healed. I have accepted God’s Word to me as His Word to me, not a general truth. I would encourage you to seek His speaking Word for you. It may not be the same, but it will be good.
Fourth, offer to help if you can help. Even better than a general offer is a specific offer. People who offer to help are usually not enlisted for help. People who ask, “Can I buy you dinner tonight?” are more likely to be taken up for their hospitality. On that note, gift cards, take out, and delivery are a great way to help. Often people have a hard time fitting meals into their healthcare and accommodating someone dropping by can be burdensome. Allowing the sick to order their food on a night and time of their choosing is usually helpful. If you are going to deliver some homemade cookin’, make sure to ask for allergies or food sensitivities.
Last, what do you say? Let’s start with things not to say. “How are you feeling?” is usually a bad question. Asking someone in chronic pain or illness to reflect on their thorn in their flesh is like asking someone who is drowning, “Is it painful?” Another misstep is to start by saying “I hear...”. No one likes to be talked about behind their back and the sick definitely don’t want the picture of a group of people having a pity party about them.
What you can say is “what’s the update on your health” or “what’s next on your health agenda?” or “I unerdstand you’re facing a big challenge. Do you want to tell me about it?” Another way to communicate care is to speak value into the sick persons life by saying something like “I am so grateful for you” or “I am committed to being with you on this” or “Your contribution to me or us is greatly valued.”
Holy Spirit is in the encouraging business. He is in the healing business. He is in the community building business. Follow what Holy Spirt is doing and you won’t go wrong. Use the compass of encouragement to validate your following Holy Spirit. Ultimately we want His Word spoken, not ours. Its usually our prideful desire to be helpful or beneficial that pushes past the line of being helpful and into the area of hurtful.