Where the sick are there usually are discomfort and pain. There may also be boredom, a sense of aloneness if not loneliness, sadness, helplessness, a feeling of abandonment or even despair. You may have no idea what to say to these feelings and problems. You may perceive yourself to be inadequate for the situation, discouraging you from visiting. (If you have other reasons for avoiding a visit, read this. If you just don’t know how to get started, read this.)
Remember, you don’t have to speak perfectly. Just the fact that you cared enough to visit will probably encourage the sufferer. Still, you probably have the desire to communicate in a way that encourages and edifies. A little forethought can go a long way to helping you.
What are you wanting to accomplish?
As a Christian, you want your conversation to accomplish what will please the Lord, proclaim the gospel, and help another to grow in Christlikeness. In visitation, you are dealing with people in hardships. Suffering tends to distract us from things above and draw out our weaknesses. It tempts us to doubt God, doubt that He is good or that He cares about us or that He is in control of the situation. It can seem there is no purpose for the pain, which is disheartening. Those who suffer need to know that God is in control and yet, though He ordained the suffering, He did it in love and has a beneficent purpose toward them. They need to grasp that Christ is trustworthy even in their pain. They need to hear about the hope of heaven and see the beauty of Christ.
You may not always be able to speak about Christ, but you need to do so when you can. A visit with no spiritual words may make the person feel better, but it doesn’t draw attention to Christ or relate Him to his suffering. We need to speak truths about God and suffering.
If we want to draw attention to Christ and minister grace to the other person we need to be deliberate about conversation. Especially if you haven’t done much visitation before, prepare the kinds of questions that will lead to spiritual conversations. Think of them as ministering conversation starters. For example:
- Is there anything with which you have been struggling (since you came to the hospital, in the last few days)?
- During this situation you may have done some thinking about life. What thoughts have you had?
- Is there a particular emotion you’ve been feeling?
- What has been the hardest issue to deal with?
- What has helped you the most?
- If you should die today, are you ready to stand before God?
- During your illness, what have you seen God provide?
- Is there something in particular for which you would like me to pray?
Before you leave your vehicle to enter the hospital you might pick just one to keep in mind for possible use. Then trust the Holy Spirit to guide your speech while you seek to serve Him.
In the Conversation
Here’s a sample progression of conversation:
- Upon entering, focus on the sick person. Ask about him. What is his condition? What kinds of treatment is he receiving?
- Ask about person’s family. Are they able to visit? Where do they live?
- Turn the conversation to a spiritual topic. If you need a transition to a spiritual question, you might begin with a permission question like, “May I ask you a personal question?”
Or, ask how you can pray for him. Just this question may lead to more discussion on spiritual matters. Is he struggling with something for which you might pray?
- Pray, including any prayer request he made.
- If time allows, talk about lighter topics.
Be looking for how the patient is relating God to his situation. Reinforce accurate perceptions of God. As needed, gently redirect from inaccurate perceptions, but if there is resistance don’t argue. This is not the time. Trust the Lord just as you are urging the patient to do. You want to encourage loving trust in, and adoration of, Christ.
Since suffering can produce doubt in God, illness can be a profitable time to talk about the gospel. You could ask, “May I ask you a personal question?” Assuming he agrees, ask “If you were to die today, do you know whether you would see Christ?” Or, “Are you ready to die and stand before God?” Such a question may lead to a discussion of God’s righteousness and our sin, death and resurrection, heaven and hell, warning the unbeliever or building hope in the believer. Rehearsing of the gospel encourages by directing thoughts to things above.
Keep the situation in mind.
The patient may be in pain or discomfort. He may be distracted by a particular worry or by anticipating a doctor’s arrival at any minute. He may have difficulty concentrating. Keep what you say short and simple.
Perhaps family or others are there. Be bold in ministering to the patient, but also respectful of all involved. Unnecessarily irritating family won’t ease the patient. Don’t force situations. Keep it comfortable.
Focus on others, not self.
Matthew 22:37 and 39 record the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord God; love others. Your purpose for visiting is or should be to minister to the other person for the glory of God. So, rather than talking about yourself, talk about God and the patient and others (positively).
This visit isn’t about you. At this time, you and your interests or experiences are not important. Don’t launch into “When I had what you have I…” Don’t be quick to tell about a relative or friend of yours that went through the same thing. That turns the focus to someone in your sphere of interest, not his. You may be a great story teller and able to keep attention or make people laugh. Restrain your speech. Draw others out.
Remember, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider others more important than yourself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Listen with Love.
Well-meaning people are eager to relieve suffering. Many well-meaning people hurry to solve others’ problems. It is not unusual for patients to be inundated with suggestions from person after person. The horde of suggestions can confuse and overwhelm him. A problem-solving discussion can exhaust him, which will not contribute to his recovery.
Just because he voices a problem does not mean that he wants you to solve it. The patient may only have been answering your question about how he is doing. Or he may be seeking only to gain comfort by talking about it with someone who will weep with him. He just needs a patient, compassionate friend. Someone who listens without recommendations can provide refreshing relief. Listen with love and learn from him.
While we sincerely desire to relieve suffering, we need to guard our hearts from unwittingly also comforting ourselves. Why self-comforting? People who empathize with a sufferer (which is a really good thing to do) can feel a sense of helplessness and a sense of embarrassment at their own helplessness to fix the problem. They may also feel alienated from the hurting friend. Suffering intrudes into our comfort zones uninvited; that can be frightening. Insecurity generally motivates us to pursue security by problem-solving. Remember that it is not our job to get rid of the other person’s pain, illness, or injury; that is God’s job through the earthly means He is using in your friend’s care. Your responsibility in visiting is to minister the grace of Christ to him for the glory of God.
Suffering is intensely personal. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, respect his choice. (Besides his emotional privacy, a reason he may not tell you is fear of hearing more suggestions to solve it.)
Allow the person you are visiting to steer the conversation. This is respectful.
Don’t argue, not even about theology. Express kindness. Give grace.
Allow for silence. It can be comforting to have someone just sit with you.
Enjoy the people you visit. Enjoy the conversation. Thank God for the privilege of walking with Christ into their rooms, participating with Christ in ministering to them, and experiencing body life in learning from them.
Don’t force the gospel on the unsaved.
If you’re visiting an unsaved person, the eternal state of that person may weigh on your mind. If you haven’t developed a relationship with him and proved your love, don’t hurry to tell him the gospel. Since in a hospital he cannot get away from you, assertively launching into a gospel presentation may be perceived as taking advantage of his weakness and making him a project.
You might approach the subject by asking if there is anything he would like you to pray for. Or, if you want to more directly tell him the gospel, ask permission. “Would it be okay with you if I tell you what the Word of God says about eternal life?” If he answers in the negative, graciously respect his desire.
Don’t Play Doctor.
Don’t give medical advice. For example, avoid, “If it was me, I would…” It isn’t you. You don’t know all of the medical factors that the doctor does. Nor does the patient. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame.” Don’t say more than you know.
Perhaps you’re a champion of alternative remedies and you’re visiting someone under conventional medical care (or vice versa). Don’t solicit for your philosophy. Even if you are an alternative remedy practitioner, it isn’t your place to advise. It can undermine the confidence of the patient in his doctors which can lead to conflicts and complications.
Even if you think you know something, lean far toward withholding it. “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Prov. 12:23). Say less than you know.
Speak well of medical staff.
Doctors and nurses are trying to do their best for the patient and truly want the patient to become healthy. Any exception is rare. Medical staff are often working under pressures and shortages. Don’t criticize them to the patient or stir suspicion. Encourage the patient to trust the medical staff. If you think there may be a serious problem, it is not wrong to suggest that a second opinion be sought. In the medical world, second opinions are accepted. That second opinion may reinforce the first doctor’s conclusions.
Do you perceive yourself to be inadequate at visiting the sick? So we all are. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to do anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). You were never intended to be adequate in yourself to do the work of God. But God is more than adequate. Seek to serve by the power of the Holy Spirit. Trust that God will use your service for the good of that person and for His glory.
Sources: See end of this post.