Our dear sister in Christ Joni Eareckson Tada has recently described suffering as “splashovers from hell.” I could not agree more. The years 2020–21 have been years from hell for my family (and COVID was not the issue for us). As I begin to write this article (in September 2021), our disabled daughter, Jessica, is once again in the hospital. Sadly, in these strange COVID times, I cannot even be with her. Her hospital permits only one visitor per day, so my dear wife, Mary, shoulders the burden this time.
Have I told you how much I hate hospitals? In our years as parents, we have made innumerable trips to hospitals—long stays for surgeries, sicknesses, emergency journeys for injuries. And as dean of students at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and as a pastor, I made many more trips to visit others. Some were happy visits for the birth of a child. But more than once, even that visit turned dark when a physician arrived, saying, “We have discovered a problem in your newborn child.” Whenever I could, I took a colleague with me for moral support. I hate hospitals.
Of course, I have deep, lasting gratitude for my many friends who serve as physicians, nurses, therapists, and so on. We are glad for the many followers of Christ we have met along the way, and I celebrate the new appreciation we have for those on the front lines of medicine.
But in this fallen and broken world, one of the most profoundly significant blessings we can render to another is simply to be with that person. Three times in the first chapter of Lamentations, the writer laments that there was “none” to bring comfort (vv. 2, 17, 21). How awful. But as Paul opens 2 Corinthians, he mentions the comfort of God and the comfort we can bring to another no fewer than nine times in the first seven verses. And that idea of comfort contains the concept of “coming alongside” someone in his time of need. Your physical presence with the sick or bereaved is the greatest gift you can offer.
Of course, in the time of Jesus, one did not have to travel to the hospital (though you might travel to a place like the pools of Bethesda, where many sick and afflicted gathered). The sick were everywhere, and very often they were brought to Jesus.
Not so in our day. We now warehouse the sick in hypersterile environments so large that one must park in outlying structures and walk thousands of steps just to get to the sick. It takes effort and can be a pain in the neck. For reasons of logistics and time, we too easily talk ourselves out of care for the sick through our presence.