Sunday, June 1, 2014
Carrying water. . .for others. . .
In the Church, visiting the aged and the infirm is like carrying water. It is the job we talk ourselves out of because we just don't have the time or energy to do it now. So, that means it never gets done. Chalk it up to good intentions. I had a visitation pastor who carried most of the water for the elderly and home bound -- until he died. The primary responsibility again fell back on me. I missed it when it was done largely by another but at the same time it is not always easy.
There are folks who are hard to talk with. They do not say much and leave the burden of the conversation largely on the visitor. It can get tiring to keep the dialog going when it seems mostly one sided. I have been fortunate to have had shut ins with keen minds who loved to gab. We had some great talks (about everything from life when you don't leave your home for months on end to the religious themes of authors like Flannery O'Connor).
There is a different pace about visiting the shut-in. You dare not rush nor should you come with an agenda in mind. You come to let them speak and to give them an opportunity to open their heart to another. You come to speak to them God's Word, to comfort them with the grace and mercy of the Lord, and to give them the gifts of Christ's body broken and His blood shed (in the Communion).
I have learned over the years that society and family have less and less time for the aged and infirm. Oh, to be sure, there are amazing exceptions -- faithful spouses and children, family and friends, who go well past the call of duty and whose devotion keeps their loved ones engaged and alive longer than they might have been. I laud them for their faithfulness even as I know how hard it will be to know what to do with their time when their loved ones enter death's sleep in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
I have also learned that the aged are a great deal smarter and wiser than you might think. They have become my counselors and their hope has encouraged my own more times than I can count. They are attuned to what is going on in their families. They hope that you will have enough courage to listen and to talk about the elephant in the room -- death). They are sustained not by medicine or physicians but by the Word and Sacraments of the Lord and by the care and love of their families and friends. And they are most grateful for the time you spend with them.
Pastors end up carrying water for those who cannot or do not or will not. We bring the church to the homes of those who can no longer attend. We represent not only Christ but also Christ's body, their brothers and sisters in the faith. We go because it is our job and but it has become, for me anyway, a joyful duty. All in all there are many aspects of my life and job as a pastor I would give up in a minute. Visiting the elderly and home bound is not one of them. I will gladly be the water boy for the people of God in this duty. I hope other clergy find in this part of the calling the same joy.