I once heard a pastor quoted as saying that no one wanted to fool with going to hospitals, or visiting nursing homes, or dealing with death. Hospitals are full of the sick, nursing homes are tough places, and nobody wants to think about death. Derek Kidner writes in his commentary on Psalms that it is ironic that “the more a person needs human support, the less he naturally attracts it.”
In fact, there are plenty of reasons for not reaching out to and caring for those who most need our care and attention. For one, it can be hard to find the time. The simple ministry of being with and listening to someone takes time, and, usually, it is time that is unscheduled and unpredictable. And when we take the time, we often find ourselves lacking words to say and not knowing what we should do. We feel a sense of helplessness and inadequacy when we are confronted with someone in grief and loneliness and fear. Sometimes our efforts might be overlooked or the other person might never know or remember that we were there at all. Then there’s compassion fatigue. And guilt—the guilt of not doing more, of not doing better. And so we stay away.
But what blessings are we missing when we stay away? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul requests help from his readers, but he says that his chief concern is not their gift itself but the blessing that God would provide for them through their gift: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (Phil. 4:17). The Philippians could have kept their resources to themselves, but they would have missed the opportunity to cultivate contentment, compassion, and generosity in their own lives. The same goes for us in our acts of ministry to the least among us. What better ways are there for us to grow in faith, to nurture godliness, and to learn how to face trials with courage than to walk with others in their times of need?
I was at dinner with some friends recently and someone asked the question, “What about your life now would have been surprising to you twenty years ago?” We all had slightly different answers, but we all agreed that we are far more “high maintenance” than we were twenty years ago. We require more for our comfort, and we think about our own health and well-being more often than before. In other words, we are often selfish. And we live in a culture that reinforces and promotes the very same thing—more choices, better stuff, and instant gratification. But what we need more of is humility, contentment, gratitude, generosity, and patience.