This time of year is very busy, but I made time recently to go visit an old friend whom I hadn't seen in a while. I had worked with him in a former job and I heard that he had recently had a rather severe stroke and was in a nearby rehab center.
It's the Christmas season which is busy for most people anyway, plus in my business the end of the year is hectic. But this had to be made a priority.
When I entered his room a nurse was tending to him and I'm sure he was surprised to see me. She finished and I greeted him, took his hand and told him I'd heard he was in a rough place right now and I wanted to check on him.
He has always been a talkative, expressive man. But the stroke has taken that ability away from him. The entire time I was with him he tried to talk, but it was completely incomprehensible. It frustrated him greatly. At several points he paused, grimaced and I saw his eyes well up with tears.
Though I controlled my emotions, I grieved inwardly for him. I caught him up on a few life things, prayed with him, and left.
It is common to feel inadequate visiting someone in such great need because we believe we should have something to say, to share, some wisdom or comfort, but we cannot find the words. This is not the first time I've stood at the bedside of someone in terrible suffering, but God in His grace has shown me that words are not what is needed, but presence is. When those we care about are suffering, what is needed most is merely our being there for them so that they do not walk through this valley alone. Like anyone I have felt the sense of inadequacy of not knowing what to say. But when I unburdened myself from that self imposed responsibility, and realized that just to be present in their hour of need was it's own form of comfort, my unease drained away.
Some years ago, in the midst of my own health crisis, there were those who took the time to be present in their own way in my life, and I will never forget their kindness. A friend alongside brings a healing power which we can easily underestimate. And we can take it from the Lord Himself, it has eternal importance.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"