Yesterday afternoon I was reminded again what a blessing it is to serve as a pastor.
Visiting sick folks and shut ins is far from the most exciting and visible thing a pastor does. In all honesty, it is one of the more difficult tasks we face. It's a time consuming activity, driving from place to place to various, houses, hospitals and nursing homes. Naturally, the conversation usually revolves around ailments, doctors, medications, and test results. I do love people, but ministering to those who are hurting and alone wears on ones own soul. In all candor, sometimes it is just hard to do, and some of the folks are just waiting for someone to hear their complaints.
With all the other pastoral responsibilities - study time, sermon prep, office hours, administrative duties, counseling sessions, planning meetings, evangelistic activities, editing radio programs, and helping with physical tasks around the church building - it is easy to put off the less pleasant aspects of the job. But a shepherd must have contact with his sheep - even with those who are unable to attend services due to age or infirmity. Hospital visits are something that must be done on a pretty regular basis. Home visits are those that just need to be worked into the schedule.
When I left the office yesterday afternoon, I was heading for the homes of two couples that I had not visited in a while. Burdened down with issues of my own, I'm ashamed to say that I almost dreaded what lay ahead. This time, however, the Lord had a lesson (and a blessing) ready for me.
All four of the folks I visited were in their 80's. Both couples had been long time members of the church, but only one of the ladies had been able to come to church in the last two years. Her husband has serious health issues and is visited regularly by home health care personnel. They remain in their own small home. Although there was the usual discussion about doctors, etc, the visit was pleasant. The couple had many questions about the church and it's members. One could feel the deep attachment they had for the faith family. I had taken them a devotional booklet, a missions magazine, and some other literature, for which they were most appreciative. One of our ladies heads up a home bound ministry at the church. She sends out her Sunday School lesson each week to those who cannot attend. Our monthly newsletter keeps them updated on what is going on, and I try to stay in touch with birthday cards, and other notes and letters throughout the year. That, and the church radio program helps these folks fell connected.
The other couple live in an assisted living/retirement community. They both met me at the door of their apartment with hugs. The wife (who had always been very physically active) now suffers from crippling arthritis and osteoporosis. She has had several falls and numerous fractures of her pelvis and several vertebrae. She had been hospitalized the previous week, but I hadn't known about it. When I gently scolded her for not letting us know, she simply smiled and said "You're so busy, I just didn't want to bother you." My heart broke as I told her, "I was in that hospital three times last week and would have visited you if I had known." She just smiled and advised me that it was OK. (Talk about low maintenance!)
Her aging husband, who requires the help of a walker, himself, is her primary caregiver. We talked about families, theirs and mine. We talked about their life together. They'll celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary the last day of July. "63 years with the right woman" he said with a smile. She returned the compliment.
We talked about the goings on at the church, and I was shocked to realize how much they knew about what was happening there. We talked, and talked, and talked - shared stories, jokes, and opinions about lots of things. But very little time was spent on talking about their problems. As I had prayer with them and prepared to leave, he went over to the counter and picked up an envelope, stamped and addressed to the church. "Here, Brother C.J." he said. "Since you're here you can be our mail man and take our tithe to the church yourself!"
I couldn't help but think how much the church meant to these folks, who cannot attend, and compare it with the attitudes of some of us who are there on a regular basis. Do we love the "family" as much as these precious folks? What a blessing they were to visit.
I had intended to stay about 30 minutes, but the fellowship was so sweet that I ended up staying three times as long as intended - and hated to leave when I finally did so. After the final hugs I walked back down the steps to the parking lot. I sat there for a moment and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
"Lord, I came here today to minister to these folks. Thank you for allowing them to minister to me!"