By Jen Schmidt
“Jen, it’s about Johnny. He has a brain tumor. They think it’s malignant. They’re doing surgery shortly.”
You’ve gotten that call, I’m sure—if not that one, a similar one that’s equally urgent and upsetting.
By virtue of being in relationship with another person, whether through family or church or a connection of shared acquaintance, you’ve entered immediately into someone else’s season of grief, trial, and suffering. Few people are ever ready for it when it happens to them.
But neither are those—like you, like me—who wish to walk alongside them through it, as we did for my brother who was dealing with this disturbing news about his son.
When life is hard, what should you say? What should you do? How do you serve them in a way that’s enough but not too much? Helpful but not intrusive?
How do you meet a real need without unintentionally creating a burden? How do you most effectively take worries off their mind so they can concentrate unhindered on what’s most important?
I watched people minister to my brother’s family in profound ways over the next few months, following this shocking, devastating interruption to their lives.
Many compassionate friends and even strangers stepped into an uncomfortable situation and said yes to being the hands and feet of Jesus.
And over a lifetime of both observing and receiving this kind of life-giving service in a variety of challenging circumstances, as well as attempting to provide it myself, I’ve learned some critical and practical lessons.
I pray they’ll help you see that a heart of hospitality means showing up for the most difficult times, willing and available.
Anticipate Needs and Be Specific
If I’ve learned one thing in light of anticipating needs, it’s to act now. Do not wait. Do not offer. Just do it!
In the past, even though my heart ached to help, I’d fall back on the familiar words, “Please let me know if you need anything.” Now I realize this sentiment must turn into action.
A person in crisis is in survival mode. Don’t place them in the difficult position of having to filter through and access what they need, followed by reaching out to you and asking.
When life is swirling and they’re just struggling to maintain, thinking through a list of past offers is nearly impossible. Analysis paralysis sets in, and most people will never ask for help.
Give Spiritual Encouragement
“I’m praying for you” is a fine thing to say, but it’s a phrase that often gets lost. I don’t want to be one of those who just shares it while passing in the aisle at church. I want to follow through when it really matters.
Instead of mentioning, “I’m praying for you,” take it a step further and write out a specific prayer or Scripture that the Lord brought to you and give it to your friend, either in person or by text or e-mail.
In moments of crisis, God hears our groaning, but our weary minds may not be able to bring Scripture to the forefront. Being able to meditate on God’s truth written on good old-fashioned note cards is a lifeline.
Rereading Scriptures and personal prayers is something pretty special. It tells them a band of prayer warriors is truly standing in the gap and interceding on their behalf.
Another source of God’s truth that helps ward off doubt is praise and worship music. Consider creating a topical playlist specific to their needs. Everyone can be encouraged and uplifted while worship plays in the background of their hospital room.
Give Physical Nourishment
When moments of crisis hit, the first thing people think of is providing meals. Identifying a family’s need in that area is critical, but often it takes a few days to set up a meal train.
For my brother’s family, a tangible blessing came instantaneously when their pastor’s wife filled their fridge with all the necessities. She didn’t ask. She just did it.
A stocked fridge spoke to their love language, and having a few freezer meals set aside specifically for those in need is a goal of mine.
Some of our easy favorites are taco casserole, easy baked ziti, and slow cooker buffalo chicken (recipes available at BeautyAndBedlam.com).
My dear friend Tammy, whom we hadn’t seen for months, brought Chick-fil-A to the hospital waiting room for our entire extended family. She anticipated this need, and even after I repeatedly told her no, she showed up anyhow.
We didn’t anticipate how much we’d need something other than cafeteria food during surgery time, but she did.
If she had called and asked, “What can I do for you?” I would have assured her we were just fine because I thought we were.
Create Hospital Survival Kits
My sweet friend Siobhan put together “emergency bags” for the whole family. I now call them Hospital Survival Kits because she thought of everything we needed to survive for a weeklong hospital stay.
Blankets (and a prayer shawl), slippers, lip balm and lotion, quarters for the vending machines, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, wipes, deodorant, healthy snacks, protein bars, meals to heat up in the microwave, drinks, and water are some of the things those blessing bags contained.
While each of these situations is different, there is never a bad time to show acts of service. Clean a bathroom, drop off paper products at the house (toilet paper, paper towels, napkins), do a load of laundry, get the oil changed in their car.
Whispering a word of encouragement ministers to a weary heart above and beyond the appreciation expressed. Be available. Share your presence, if even for a few minutes, while always being sensitive to the situation, knowing at times the family will need to regroup and be left alone.
Every day the Lord opens the door for us to step through it and offer up our uncomfortable yes to Him. What will yours be today?
JEN SCHMIDT (@BeautyAndBedlam) is a worship leader, speaker, and writer.
Excerpted with permission from Just Open the Door: How One Invitation Can Change a Generation (B&H Publishing Group) by Jen Schmidt. Just Open the Door is a personal guide to offering the life-changing gift of invitation with a companion Bible study.