I mentioned two lists. The second list has to do with the intangibles. There are things we can do for one another which might not register on a practical tally sheet of accomplished tasks. These items, though we might not see direct progress or results, are quite essential in how we care for each other.
Pray. Well of course we should pray. Bow your head, say your prayers, ask your friend how you can pray with her and for her. Let “I’m praying for you” be a statement of profound spiritual fact and not another conversational crutch also approaching insignificance—but that’s a topic for another sermon.
Care. Please keep caring. This seems obvious, but we might need to ask the “so what” question about our involvement with others. It might restore us to minster for the right reasons. We do so because we care and not because we are obligated to any sense of duty. If someone asks, “Why are you here?” I hope your honest answer will be, “Because I care.”
Notice. I think we especially struggle in church in failing to notice each other. We can go for weeks without seeing each other before we begin to wonder if anything is wrong. A better ministry of paying attention might be needed. Of course, this is not a blanket indictment. There are some small groups that know how to do this quite well. They call each other when they are missed.
Accept the challenge of a simple ministry of paying attention. I think this is important especially with people who are grieving. Think about that Sunday morning when a grieving friend returns to church. The last time he was in the sanctuary, he left following his wife’s casket. No one sets that aside in order to put on a happy face to get through a typical Sunday morning.
Pay attention. Notice when people are not around. Check on them. At least let them know they were missed. Chances are good that such a conversation reveals more information, even information that might have you turning the page back to your practical list.
Notice when people come back. Go to them. They need your hugs, love and presence. Be someone who might help them get through a difficult day which might—might—make the next time easier.
Of course there are other things to notice. It can be powerful to caringly point out, “I can see that you have been crying. Would you like to talk about it?”
Listen. Along with the ministry of presence, there might be no greater skill you can learn than actually listening to someone. If someone is willing to tell you about their hurts, you are blessed and invited into an inner circle with that friend. Don’t get off track worrying about what to say. Listen.
Here’s an example of what not to do. If a friend is telling you about his complications following knee surgery, don’t follow that with any commentary that begins, “Well, when I had my knee surgery…” The same can be said about any number of situations.
The list of intangibles can probably be expanded as well. A few more single word imperatives come to mind. Support. Console. What about Love? Put your imagination to work. Use the Golden Rule to figure out how you can treat someone the way you’d like to be treated. I feel certain that ought to work at least 90% of the time.
Is there anything you can do? Well of course there is. Let me tell you about one more that seems very important.
Show up. Don’t discount the importance of the ministry of being there. We have often been preached to and taught about being the presence of Christ for someone else. There is good work to be done in simply showing up. Job’s friends heard he was suffering and they came to him. They sat on the ground with him for seven days without saying one word. It’s my contention that if the book of Job had ended right there, it would have been perfect.
While serving as a chaplain in the hospital, I was called on to care for a family in a crisis. A man’s wife was suffering from some serious heart problems. She went from the emergency room directly to the cath lab. Did I mention she was pregnant? Every complication the mother was experiencing was affecting her child as well. No doubt that her husband was also burdened with these thoughts. I arrived and introduced myself. From that point on, all I could do was stand there and feel absolutely helpless. In the middle of all that stress, the husband turned to me and said, “Chaplain, thanks for being here with us, it really means a lot.” What meant a lot?? It was a tough lesson for me to learn, but there are more times than we can imagine when we will do our best work to sit on the ground with folks and be with them.
Show up for your friends and neighbors in ways that bless them to see and know that they are not alone, and if you can do it without saying a word, even better.