“…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt 25:40
In the early days of my ministry, I found it difficult to make hospital visits. What could I say that did not sound trite and hollow? With the patient hooked up to machines and stuck with needles, what demeanour should I adopt? However, studying Clinical Pastoral Care during my theological studies was of great help to me in overcoming this difficulty. This course showed how appropriate visits and careful listening can enhance the healing process of the patient. Further, this is a ministry of presence manifesting Christ’s compassion and mercy to the patient. The following are some skills of pastoral care that I learnt from my studies.
Be prepared – Do not get flustered by the machines and needles. Be calm and assuring. Smile when it is appropriate. Let your faith in the Lord radiate forth in the situation. This allows the patient to gain confidence from your presence.
Be attentive – Let the patient talk and be sensitive to the effect of the environment on the patient. Do not brush off any fear or apprehension as irrational.
Be comforting – Read scripture or write comforting scripture on a card for the patient to reflect on. Pray for and, if possible, with the patient. A gentle touch on the hand or shoulder as you pray has immense therapeutic value so do this when you talk to the sick or pray with them.
Be sensitive - Do not display over-exuberance, e.g., by praying in loud voices or joking boisterously. Do not stay too long as patients need to rest and recover. Sometimes, if the patient is asleep, it is best to just leave a card indicating you have dropped by. If you are unable to visit, send a sms or have a short conversation on the phone. This is definitely more appropriate than not paying any attention to the sick person that you are unable to visit.
Be God’s instrument – Establish a trialogue by bringing God’s presence into the visit. Share a testimony of how God has brought you through adverse circumstances.
To many people, hospital visits are the work of the pastoral staff and the patient’s close friends. Scripturally speaking, this is not true as we are members of one family – the family of Christ. Further, the aforementioned skills are something all people, both pastors and laity, have. It just needs to be exercised and polished through regular visits.
So just do it. It is a wonderful ministry because it enables us to reach out to not just the sick person but also to family members who may not be Christians. And when we do this ministry, we have the blessings of Christ who promised that extending such acts of mercy and compassion to the least of his brothers was equivalent to extending it to him (Matt 25:35-40).