“Before you go, will you hold my hands while we pray?”
I had spent the previous hour at a home visit with a sweet elderly lady now housebound by lack of mobility and outside support. We’d spoken of many personal things, shed some tears and shared some laughter, but I had maintained social distance out of respect for this unique season in which we are all ministering. Now I moved to the side of her armchair and gently cradled both of her frail, misshapen hands in mine. We prayed as one, bringing added strength to our prayers as well as added comfort to her spirit. We’d connected in our conversation, but it was the simple act of touch that connected us as no words could ever do.
I serve as a chaplain and director of a ministry that reaches out to a sometimes-overlooked segment of our faith family, those who are housebound through mobility, medical or support issues. Some are in their homes, or the home of a loved one; some are in assisted living settings or nursing homes.
Wherever they call home, I meet with them there and provide resources, spiritual encouragement, intercessory prayer, and even communion --- elements of the Christian life they are no longer able to access through their home churches. I rarely preach and seldom minister to more than a handful of people at once, but my mission is the same as a lead pastor or missionary or evangelist: to connect a soul with the Savior who longs to meet their need.
Chaplaincy is often referred to as “the ministry of presence” and from the first time I heard that phrase I pictured simply sitting side-by-side with the person in need, close enough to hear even a whispered plea, to be a supportive shoulder to cry on or an arm supporting like a comforting blanket of warmth and protection from the trauma they have experienced. It’s from that unique ministry position I have learned how our attempts to connect with hurting souls, regardless of our ministry title or position, need to be rooted in three areas.
Next, we need to be rooted and grounded in respect for the person in front of me. It can be so easy to let feelings of impatience, superiority, even disgust or horror creep into our mind and soul as someone pours out the darkness of their life, but we need to be constantly aware that God loves them just as much as He loves us, and the only thing we might have that they don’t is a relationship with the Savior.
I minister in my county jail and hear over and over from inmates how thankful they are that I treat them like human beings. That respect is conveyed through eye contact, respectful listening, and through my attentiveness to them. Ask God to show you the person as He sees them!
Honest, courageous empathy builds bridges and allows individuals to face their truths with a little more courage.
The dear elderly lady that wanted to hold hands in prayer had just finished telling me one of her greatest sorrows in life was a stillborn baby son. One of her greatest fears now as she contemplated Heaven, was that she would not recognize that child or meet him when she arrives there. It was not the time to remind her how long ago it had happened. It was not the time to retreat behind a doctrinal discourse on the souls of newborns. It was time to hold her hands and pray with her. Pray that her dear baby son would be waiting at heaven’s gates for the hug they were not able to share on earth. It was time to be honest about her fear and sadness and about the hope Heaven holds as she gets close to the end of her earthly time.
True connection will take you places in another person’s life you could not have predicted and certainly would not have asked to enter. You will share pain and fear you might not have ever imagined. You will practice honesty when a little skirting of hard truths would be easier. You will hold a hand that might be dirty, smelly, and unpleasant to all your senses.
Connecting will bring you unexpected relationships, priceless insights, and opportunities to experience the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways even as you see Him at work in others. Connect with your senses, respect and honesty --- and you will watch your relationships and your ministry become richer and deeper as the Holy Spirit multiplies your passion to connect.