As I write this post, a loved one is having surgery, and I’m sitting in the waiting room, trying to tune out the sound of “The Price is Right” blasting from the television. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms over the years, particularly because my son Sean has had quite a few health problems. In most cases, I write to pass the time. When Sean was having heart surgery at four months of age, I spent the time working on an article on Matthew. A friend of my wife’s was in the waiting room with us and she thought this quite odd. But people deal with such situations in different ways.
Years ago when I was serving in a local congregation in Dallas, one of my duties was to visit people in the hospital. At first I found this quite intimidating, but in time I came to understand it as sacred work. When we visit the sick, we form ourselves more completely into the family of faith. Apart from any comfort or diversion a visit might bring, it is an important way of standing in solidarity with those who are in pain, frightened, and in need of prayer. I still remember the visitors from my church who came to be with Harriet and me when Sean was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Those visits were an important part of our getting through that difficult time.
Sometimes the family of faith is the only real family people have. One of the things that made an impression on me when I was serving on a church staff years ago was that, were it not for the church, many people would have no one to visit them in the hospital. They would be completely alone. They would have no one to be present with them, no one to advocate for them. In these cases, the work of hospital visitation takes on additional significance. It could make the difference between hope and despair.
If only the images that made it onto CNN were of a pastor holding the hand of an elderly parishioner or sitting with parents while their child underwent surgery. What if, rather than seeing a group of televangelists laying hands on Donald Trump or the followers of Fred Phelps picketing the funerals of soldiers, we saw a member of a church’s care team praying with a cancer patient? How different would the cultural impressions of the church be? Unfortunately, we don’t often see such positive images of Christians in the wider culture. Yet for every Fred Phelps, there are tens of thousands of kind and humble servants of Christ praying with the sick, driving for Meals on Wheels, and sitting with people who cannot leave their houses.
As Christians, we should not expect the wider culture to embrace us or to provide us with positive PR. The values of Christ and the values of the world will inevitably differ, and in the United States this dissonance is only going to increase. But at times it’s helpful for us to take stock of the fact that, for all of our faults, the body of Christ brings hope to the hopeless and comfort to the hurting.