So often we interpret this passage of scripture to mean that we inquire about how someone is feeling and tell the sick person to be sure to let us know if they need anything. Then we pat ourselves on the back feeling like we have done our duty in doing what this scripture tells us to do. I know this is true for I have been there and done that. Nothing could be further from the truth and I pray that we all, myself included ask God to help us to never be satisfied with simply doing that again.
Over the past two years, I've battled two different life-threatening illnesses. I've had numerous people inquire after my health. Most of the time, people will say, "Let me know if there is anything I can do." This is a nice things to say, right? Do we realize the "pressure" this puts on the person who is ill and/or their family? I know I never did... until I was there!
I cannot speak for other situations but I can speak for those with serious, life-threatening illnesses for I have heard this from them over and over again over the past two years. Believe it or not, those of us who battle things such as cancer, heart disease, strokes, etc, deal with guilt. Sooner or later we wonder if there is something we did or did not do to cause or exacerbate the situation. Life as we knew it, for ourselves and our families comes to a halt... and it is "because of us." If only we didn't get ill... and yes, we sometimes even think that God should have just let us die so that our spouse/family could move on and have a "nice" life. Ridiculous? Sure, but that gives you a glimpse of what so many people with debilitating and/or life-threatening diseases think.
This is important to know. It is important to know that the person and/or their family does not want to "bother" anyone with their problems. Yes, perhaps we need to learn to speak up when asked but truthfully it is hard to know when the person really wants to help or whether it is simply a courtesy.
I really, really appreciated and continue to appreciate the people who were specific. Instead of saying, "Let me know if I can help." they said things like:
I would love to bring a meal for your family. What night would be best?
I thought I'd come by for a visit. I will stay with (insert name here) and you can go and do things you need to do. When would you like me to come?
I know it is hard for you to get out right now. If you'll make up a list for me, I'd be happy to pick up some groceries for you.
You get the idea. When people indicated they wanted to help and then started to mention ways they could do so... well it was much easier to take them seriously. They had gone a step beyond "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help." That, as well meaning as it seems, places the burden/responsibility on the person or their family. To tell you the truth, they have a heavy enough burden right now.
I guess what we need to understand is that most people in crisis really do feel a sense of guilt and therefore are often reluctant or too numb to express their needs. Perhaps we would do well to ask God to help us know what they need, when they need it.
Oh, I am so thankful for the people who specifically asked if they could bring meals. I am so thankful for the people who offered to give my husband a break or offered to run errands. I am thankful for the people who visited me and for the $100.00 grocery card one of our pastors slipped into my husband's hand while I was in the hospital. I am thankful for the couple of friends who slipped money into the cards they sent me... when I was in cancer treatment and this time around. They just figured we could use it. I am so thankful for the cards and messages I received from friends here at CB as well.
Oh, don't get me wrong! I am not saying there is anything wrong with telling someone you will pray for them. No! A thousand times no! I am simply saying that far too often those words become mechanical and become nothing more than empty words. Instead of telling people in crisis (when they usually can't think clearly) to let us know if there is anything we can do, perhaps we should first be asking God how we can best bless and serve them. After all, He knows their needs even better than they do.
Good points K for those having to deal with such matters, it gives a more concrete, dedicated way in which to move forward in someone's life to help.
Guilt? I can do guilt. My children spent way too much of their childhood playing in the hospital roof garden.
So much of what you said rings true with me my friend. Thank you for sharing this blog.