I very nearly entitled this post 'Pastoral Home Visits for the Lay Person', but decided that was a bit too wordy, and might make me sound like I think I actually know something! The truth is, my husband is the one who has lots of practice with 'Pastoral Care'. It is a part of ministry that he still really misses - along with all those hours of in-depth Bible Study for message preparation. It was also an aspect of ministry in which he excelled, mainly due to his compassionate heart, but also because of the helpful guidelines he followed. He always wished he had more time for home visits since he often came away blessed and encouraged by those he sought to minister to.
My sweet Mum has been blessed beyond measure by the loving attention of her church family during this time of recovering from hip repair surgery, however some of the situations that have arisen during her time of recovery at home have me thinking more about how the body of Christ could do home visits in a more helpful manner. To be frank, Mum is so well loved that she isn't being given the time she needs to heal. Too often she has been playing the ever gracious hostess instead of taking the time she needs to rest and do her physical therapy! Often one set of well-wishers are barely out the door before another contingency arrives! I read Mum the following guidelines over the phone and she added things I hadn't thought about, so this is a collaboration of sorts. I'm sure we haven't covered everything!
for the Home Visit
- Determine the appropriate time to visit. It is sometimes hard for those recovering from illness or surgery to 'get going' in the morning. Often this is due to a poor night's sleep caused by physical discomfort, but at times it is simply because it is harder to get ready for the day. Simple tasks like getting clean, putting on clothing and brushing teeth or hair can be exhausting, often requiring a nap upon completion. A 9 am visit might not be appreciated! What about the case of a family with a new baby? Everyone is longing to see the newest blessing, but keeping a calm home atmosphere and finding time to rest are more important. Call ahead and find out when it is best to visit. Often just after lunch works well, but call to be sure. Don't interrupt rest times!
- Show up!. If you say you are coming at 2pm, please show up at that time or call to arrange another time. Your visit is anticipated and your friend will be disappointed if you fail to show. Don't randomly change your schedule and come early either - there is a time for spontaneity, and this isn't it!
- Keep it SHORT!!! The general rule is 15-30 minutes, but be aware of your friend's complexion and demeanor and look for signs of discomfort or tiring. Unless you've been asked to stay and 'patient sit' for extended hours, keep your visit brief. It takes a lot of good rest to heal, or to recover from birth or fresh sorrow and you don't want you desire to be a blessing to turn into a detriment. Remember, pain is exhausting and healing takes energy that can only be gained through proper rest.
- Avoid bossy greetings! There is nothing more annoying than being told what to do when you can't really do it! For example, someone who is facing a long and difficult recovery time may not really appreciate a card that demands 'Get Well Soon!'. It may be our deepest wish that our friend or loved one recovers quickly, but healing takes time and cannot be rushed. Consider a 'Praying for you' type card instead. This applies in cases of chronic illness as well - reality is that chronic illness is by nature ongoing. 'I hope you are feeling better' or 'You've been on my mind' is far more thoughtful, and sensitive to the nature of the illness.
- Carry your own burden. While it is Scriptural to bear one another's burdens, this isn't the time. Leave your personal struggles at home and bring your best and brightest smiles instead. Those who are facing difficulty need your encouragement and cheerful things to think about. While they may be a wonderful 'burden bearer' when they are well, consider your friend temporarily out of the burden sharing business. They likely have enough of their own concerns right now - this is a season of healing. If you lay your burden at their doorstep right now, you may find out later that they have dwelt so much on your concerns that they have been unable to properly rest. Unless they specifically ask about your struggles, keep it to yourself for now.
- Keep it upbeat! If you've ever spent time recovering from a long illness or tending to those who are, you know that 'Cabin Fever' can set in pretty quickly. Well, there is nothing better for 'Cabin Fever' than a peek outside the window - and you can provide that for your friend by bringing cheerful, upbeat news about mutual friends and positive world events. Feelings of isolation and disconnectedness will lessen when there are others to think about - and of course, never stray into the realm of gossip!
- Look for little needs. Why is it so hard to be on the taking side of a blessing? I'm not sure, but certainly for myself it is very humbling to be in need of help. That's why when friends graciously offer to help in some way, and then follow through, I am doubly blessed - by their help, and by knowing that they too have received a blessing. If you walk into a friend's home and see something that needs to be done, quietly offer to do it and than just go ahead. You know yourself how quickly a room can be dusted, picked up or made more comfortable. Little things that someone else has not seen to will make a big difference. Can you brush hair, rub on lotion, give a gentle massage, fill a pill keeper, wash a few dishes, dust and straighten, throw in a load of wash, or make a phone call? Can you mop a floor, wipe a window, wipe the crumbs off the counter or tidy a fridge? Take 5 to 10 minutes and be a servant - you'll do more to encourage your recovering friend than you know.
- Be a blessing. Don't neglect to share what the Lord is doing in your life, share a favorite verse, and pray for your friend. It doesn't have to be a sermon, a lengthy passage, or a prayer worthy of putting to music, just sincere words from a loving heart is all that is required. 'I would like to pray for you my friend' are some of the most precious words I've heard from the lips of my friends. Do be sure to avoid platitudes, hurtful comparisons, and thoughtless comments.
- Skip the perfume. That goes for aftershave too guys. The last thing you want to do is give someone who is struggling to recover a headache. Many patients are more sensitive to scents when they are physically laid low. This goes for flowers too - strong scented blossoms are often not the best choice. Ask a florist if you are unsure about what is best.
- Food or No Food? That is the question! Here are my humble thoughts. If the family has a church family that provides scheduled meals during convalescence or grief, consider bringing foods packaged and ready for the freezer, such as cookies, breads frozen casseroles or soups, rather than a hot and ready meal. Dad and Mum have been doubly blessed some evenings and had two hot dinners to chooses from! That happened to us when we moved to a new church home, and also after our losses. It can be overwhelming, and frankly, wasteful. Even if you are part of a organized meal supply, do call ahead and be sure to bring appropriate meals - don't make assumptions. Ask about any dietary concerns or restriction, and make sure your amounts are appropriate. Diminished appetite is often a part of grieving as well as recovering from surgery or illness. Are there two people in the home? Don't bring enough for 8 - they will be heartily sick of even your best offering, and often don't have time or energy to think about freezing food for another time. Obviously you cannot cater to every like and dislike, allergy or preference for an entire household, but finding out about those is very helpful and shows your caring.
I'm sure that there is much more to be said on this subject and that you have many good thoughts and ideas to add to ours from your experience. I'd love to hear them! I just wanted to get us started thinking about how to be a blessing to those in need, be it after birth, death, illness or surgery. If you are part of household of faith, perhaps you will have an opportunity soon to be a blessing to a brother or sister in Christ!