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The Day the World Bows to the King

All is not right with the world, but one day the world will change hands, Christ will reign, and all well be set right.

Several years ago my own surgery taught me a few things about how to visit a friend in the hospital.

These visits can be made for a lot of reasons: duty, friendship, repayment of a favor. But a call that truly ministers aims to help heal the patient's soul. Here are seven elements of soul care in a hospital setting.

  1. Determine the patient's mood. Major-surgery patients encounter at least three basic emotional periods: (1) the night before and the early hours of the surgery day; (2) the period right after surgery when life signs are low and the patient is very likely under sedation or taking pain-killing drugs; (3) the period of increasing mobility and strengthened life signs.
    Expect to find at least three basic moods during these times.
    Fear is surely a part of the presurgery hours. The appropriate response is assurance—facing the reality of the situation but approaching it with confidence.
    Aloneness is common during the low-functioning days right after surgery. Many times the best you can do is simply to be there.
    Depression and impatience with the rate of recovery are common as time goes on. At this point, the patient may be ready for some sensitive cheer.
    Try to determine the patient's mood in order to minister appropriately.

  2. For maximum ministry, call on the patient the day before or in the early hours before surgery. Like a joke or a kiss, timing is everything here. Six visits the following week will not recover the lost opportunity of those hours before the unknown.
    As a professor, I was grateful for those students who recognized this during my last class before I headed to the hospital. They insisted that we pause and pray just prior to my walking out the front door, alone. That stayed with me as I entered surgery.

  3. Minister to the patient's family in the waiting room during surgery. That is the significant time for loved ones. That is when the questions and fears arise. My wife was grateful for two friends who had experienced the terrors of their own surgery. They remembered and came and stayed. It was also a comfort to me to know that friends would be there for her.

  4. Recognize that your presence is more important that your words. This is especially true during the mood of aloneness. On Saturday night a friend came to see me. I was three days without a shave. A tube was stuck down my nose drawing blood and mucus from my stomach, and I was only half conscious from drugs. It was more than he could handle. He paced the floor and said, "Oh, I've made a mistake. I had no idea. I had no idea." I think he thought I was about gone. So after three minutes he mumbled something and left.
    In one sense, he did about everything wrong. But as he walked out the door, I smiled. Why? Because he came. And I knew it. He broke my isolation; he was there.

  5. After a brief visit, don't hesitate to take the patient's hand—as firmly as appropriate without causing pain. That touch—or grip—communicates empathy, presence, strength, companionship. Every patient needs those three things. And often a touch will give them.

  6. Remember that the seriousness of surgery has little relationship to the seriousness with which a patient views the surgery. Your assignment is the patient's mood, not the doctor's report. Don't take the patient lightly, but don't be morbid. You must accept his mood and respond with gentle encouragement.
    Sometimes cards reflect the appropriate mood. One of my cards, from a friend in Minnesota, came after I got home. It had Lucy Van Pelt on the cover saying, "When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout …" and on the inside she screamed, "Somebody's going to pay for this!" I smiled because I had paid and paid and paid! Earlier, when it was feeling fear, the card would have been worse than nothing.

  7. When you want to share a few verses of Scripture, concentrate on select portions of the Psalms. I am convinced that no other portion of the Bible strikes the note of the openness of the soul—that directness with God—quite like the Psalms.
    My friend Ray Buker is my model here. He came to see me, and before he left he had that little pocket Testament with the Psalms out and was reading: "God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and the mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage and the hills are shaken by the violence … the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge!" (Ps. 46:1-3, 7).
    You will never improve upon that, the Word of God for the cure of souls.

Prior to his death in 2010, Bruce Shelley was professor of church history at Denver Seminary and a teaching pastor at several Denver area churches. This article was first published in Lay Leadership, a resource of www.LeadershipJournal.net

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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