How do I discern "timing" when it comes to caring for the sick?

There are many wise thoughts on the issue of time.  How long should we stay when we visit?  When is it urgent enough that we go?  Is it different depending on whom and where we visit?  A helpful starting place is to consider the wise words of Alistair Begg:

“It is always better that people should feel our visit is too short than too long.” 

With this in mind, most recommend no longer than five to ten minutes in a hospital or nursing home.  If the sick are in the hospital, it is a safe assumption that they are in some level of pain.  Because of this, we care for them more faithfully by not ‘pushing the line’ by staying too long.  A home situation can be a little more flexible.  Depending on the level of sickness and pain of the individuals you are visiting, twenty to thirty minutes is plenty of time to spend with them.

How soon should we visit once we have received word of their illness?  This is dependent upon the condition and affliction of the person.  In the nineteenth century people died of ordinary illnesses.  This explains why David Dickson writes,

“When the elder does hear of such illness, he should visit at once.  A day’s, or even an hour’s, unnecessary delay may cause him a long regret.”

In the age of modern medicine, there is not the sense of urgency there was one hundred to two hundred years ago.  However, there are emergencies that, once we receive word, should become our top priority.  Like Dickson, if we tarry and miss the passing of a dear brother or sister in Christ because of our procrastination, we too will experience unnecessary regret.

In summary, always error on the shorter time…both in how long you stay and how long you wait to go.

Posted in Hospital Visitation
2 comments on “How do I discern "timing" when it comes to caring for the sick?
  1. S. Shugart says:

    This is my first time at your blog, so I may not have earned the “right” to comment, however, I feel as if I must respectfully disagree with or at least expand upon the position that shorter is better. Ultimately, although you do note this, I want to emphasize that it is a matter of sensitivity- no one wants their pastor “camped out” for hours at a time. However, in my experience, people need time to ease out of the “hosting” phase of the visit (whether that occurs in a hospital room or a home) and will not open up if they feel as if you are in a rush or watching the clock… Too many times I have witnessed and been the recipient of “drive by” pastoral care where never once was the patient or visitee actually given the opportunity to open up about the pain that they’re experiencing. There is an art to assessing the pastoral care situation and one of the pastoral tasks is to grow in learning that art. That being said, some of the “tools” that I use are intentional questions such as, “What are some specific issues we can pray together about?” or something as simple as, “Are you in a lot of pain?” These questions invite (though don’t gurantee) honest sharing. My goal in a pastoral visit is to be sensitive to the person’s body language and to never communicate that I am in a rush.

    • Brian Croft says:

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I agree with much of what you have said. I think good questions as you mentioned can be asked, adequate time can be spend with the patient and yet not overstay your visit. Wisdom and discernment certainly needs to be applied on how long that should be.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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