My non-minister friends have always been fascinated by different aspects of my job. "What's it like to write a sermon" (answer: stressful, but in a fun way) or "do you actually like going to church that much" (answer: most days, yep I do). One question that I'm often ask is one I asked of myself at the beginning - "how do you handle being with people who are sick or suffering or something? Isn't it really depressing?"
When I first heard my call I was nervous about being with people in the hospital. How will I know what to say? What if my prayers sound stupid? What can I really do? A college professor who was also a minister told my theology class that he had similar concerns when he first started and sometimes he still did. Sometimes he'd leave a room and think "what in the world was that prayer?" And when that happened, he would later hear from the person he was visiting or his/her family that "that" prayer meant so much. Even if he thought he was bumbling, the Spirit worked through him.
So, even with these concerns of mine, I decided I could be a minister and I'd just have to "get over" my nervousness in a hospital room. When I went to seminary, I was taught all this psychological stuff about visiting with folk, given different prayer ideas and techniques. While I suppose these pieces of education were supposed to help calm my nerves as well as prepare me, I didn't feel anymore calm. I spent a semester visiting people in a hospital, employing the various techniques I learned, and still, didn't feel fully comfortable.
It wasn't until I was an intern at St. Andrews that I finally began to relax. I visited this sweet older woman whom I hadn't met before (I had just started and she had been in the hospital and unable to come to church) and through my visits with her I learned something that has since made all the difference - visiting people in the hospital can be a joy!
I think because I had never had much experience visiting people when they were sick (my family tends to be a healthy lot), I just didn't know what to expect and the unknown always makes me uncomfortable. Through my visits with this particular woman, I discovered how conversations both light and deep, heartfelt prayers, and small acts of care could mean so much to both of us. I became so comfortable in a hospital setting, became comfortable with tubes and IVs and all such matters. And I became comfortable with my role as a friend, as a pastor, as a sister in Christ.
So when my friends ask me if visiting people who are sick is depressing, I just smile and say no, it's often quite the opposite. Even when people aren't doing so well, physically or emotionally, it doesn't bring me down. I get sad, yes, cry even, but there's always this sense that in our time together, God was there in that moment. That feeling lifts me up, carries me through even the hardest of days. And the good days - well, there's a heck of a lot of laughter and storytelling and even a couple offers to scout out a cute doctor for me! It is an honor and a privilege; a joy, that while unexpected, is so real.