JOB'S three friends were doing all right at the beginning. And their sick call might have been more successful if they had continued along the same line. For the Sacred Record says, "They sat down with him . . . , and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great" (Job 2:13). Here they revealed sympathy and insight.
But when they began to propound their own ideas without any knowledge of his real situation they lost contact with the patient and became "miserable comforters." Yet, words chosen with the sick one's need in view do have a power to heal. Many who have been visited by their minister or other Christian friends can testify to this.
Sickness, to many, is a deep river, the farther shore of which may not always be discernible to those who flounder in the depths. The real service is not only to help the sufferer to keep his head above water but to gain the larger viewpoint.
On our ward was a middle-aged woman who had recently lost her husband and who had difficulty in adjusting to her new life situation. After a few days it was apparent that she was regressing, and she soon reached the place where she remained in bed although there was no physical reason for this. She refused to eat or even to answer when spoken to. When I entered the room of this mentally ill person she gave no indication that she was even aware of my presence. I realized that in her withdrawal from all human contact she had shut herself in a room that could hold only terror and loneliness. Sensing that just the presence of another person in the room might give some support, I sat in silence beside her for some time. Then I began very quietly:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
I followed this with
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
—Psalm 23:1, 2
and on through the shepherd's psalm, following with other and familiar passages. Although she made no sign that she had heard except a quick glance in my direction when I began to speak, there was a visible relaxation to the tense body. Was it only a coincidence that she slept well that night, took food and medicine the next day, and continued to improve until her dismissal some days later?
Some patients will ask for spiritual support. Others do not recognize their own need. Yet it is there. Even those not of the Christian faith will often accept portions of the Scripture as great literature and find comfort in them. Almost all religions believe in a supreme being in whom in times of stress the suffering one may turn for comfort. Personally I have prayed with Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and people of many other faiths.
Sometimes one must build an approach to the patient's mind—out of such material as he furnishes, be it "wood, hay, stubble," and must recognize the building material in whatever form it appears.
"I don't want religion crammed down my throat while I'm here!" exclaimed a man hospitalized for ulcers, when visited by a Christian worker.
No doubt he thought he had built a barrier great and high to the subject. Actually he had just torn a hole in his fence that enabled his friend to get quickly over on his side. The tactful visitor replied,
"I don't blame you at all! I wouldn't like that either. You must have had some bad experiences to make you say that."
Eventually he told what they were. The reason for his outburst had its roots in childhood where parents, although church members, showed little love or understanding to him. He was full of anxiety and guilt feelings, and these underlaid much of his unfavorable physical symptoms. By using the approach he furnished, the friend was able to lead the man to higher spiritual ground and to help the doctor bring him back to health.
I think Solomon may have been using stubble for an approach when he said, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." He was using the common human experience of discouragement, for probably most people, especially when ill, have felt with Job
Wearisome nights are appointed to me.
When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise,
And the night be gone?
And I am full of tossings to and fro
Unto the dawning of the day.
My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of
dust. . . . My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,
And are spent without hope.
O remember that my life is wind:
Mine eye shall no more see good.
Yet there were better days ahead for Job, and Solomon's approach led him to splendid spiritual heights—"Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl. 12:13).
Most people living in large cities have a dread of snow because of difficult driving conditions and traffic hazards—but not the children. With sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks they face the stinging cold in order to enter into the treasures of the snow. To help the sick to face the sting of pain and to find treasures in suffering is the privilege of the Christian visitor.
A young man, blinded while in the armed services, spent long months in an excellent army rehabilitation center where he was taught to live with his blindness; but it was a Christian visitor who gave him a spiritual goal that sent him back to finish college and then go on to the university.
"I'm glad I'm blind," he told me. "I found Christ in the darkness."
Evelyn, a missionary from Africa, showed much fortitude in spite of great suffering. She would get better and a relapse would occur. This happened several times until even her buoyant spirits were worn down.
One evening I paused at the door of her room. It was dark and quiet. Thinking her asleep, I was about to leave when I heard a muffled sob. Evelyn crying? Where was the shining courage with which she had met every other trial and which had made her an inspiration to all who knew her?
One hand groped out from under the covers and reached for mine.
"Oh, I know it's wrong to be so discouraged! But if I could only understand why I don't get better."
I could not tell her that everything would be all right, because I didn't know. Even the doctors did not agree on the diagnosis or on the prognosis.
Probably not everyone would make the same choice of comforting words. But because it was apparent that a storm was raging in the young woman's mind, and that she had need for reassurance in those things she already believed, it seemed appropriate to read from her Bible:
The Song of the Thunderstorm
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters:
The God of glory thundereth,
Even the Lord upon many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the LoTd breaketh the cedars;
Yea, the Lord breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. . . .
And strippeth the forests bare:
And in his temple every thing saith, Glory.
The Lord sat as king at the Flood;
Yea, the Lord sitteth as king for ever.
The Lord will give strength unto his people;
The Lord will bless his people with peace.
—Psalm 29, R.V.
The words had the desired affect. Peace and confidence returned to the sufferer's face. There is something about the tempest in this poem that fits the mood of restless patients and gives them a sense of God's care.
Visiting the sick may be very rewarding to those who remember that "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." I have written as a nurse, but the same experiences might have been those of any Christian worker.