I must confess…I hate visiting nursing homes!
This aversion to nursing homes began at a very young age with church Christmas caroling. I remember feeling very scared of the residents there. Their over-zealous joy of seeing a young child translated to me as something from a zombie movie with dead people in wheelchairs chasing me to a certain death!
As I grew to my teen years, the dread of youth group trips to sing and minister did not cease. I found myself avoiding direct contact and busying myself with the non-confrontational ministry of puppets, well-hidden behind a curtain!
As I advanced into my adult years, I found myself married to a pastor – and yes, you guessed it, we visited church members in the nursing home! I still didn’t enjoy going. Added to my feelings of fear was intense sadness. I saw it more like a “waiting for death” home rather than a nursing home. I felt sadness because many of these people were rarely visited by anyone and some just wandered the hallways aimlessly completely dependent upon overworked, underpaid health professionals. The sadness quickly converted to fear at the thought of myself ending up this way and all I wanted to do was run – far away!
Today I am 44 and faced with one of my worst fears – now my father is in a nursing home. He suffers with dementia and bi-polar depression and needs constant care. Now visiting a nursing home is not just a couple times year event but a daily occurrence. I wish I could say my heart is completely changed and I find joy in visiting and being an encouragement, but that is not the case. I still feel great sadness and dread going, but God is working on my heart and teaching me some valuable lessons.
Friends in ministry, you may enjoy visiting folks in nursing homes but there may be other areas of ministry you just want to run from: Children’s ministries? Choir? Hospital visitation? Praying out loud? Public speaking? You fill in the blank. The truth is, part of growing in Christ is stepping out of our comfort zones. This is truly when our selfishness and fears are revealed and we have to lay it at the Father’s feet in order to do the task at hand. Here are a few lessons God has taught me as I went kicking and screaming outside my ministry comfort zone.
- Face your fears – don’t run from them.
One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I love that thought because when I am most afraid is when I find myself running in to the arms of my loving Heavenly Father. These words from Isaiah 41:10 bring great courage to my heart when I am walking into an uncomfortable situation: “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Praise God He is with us every step of the way even as we walk the halls of a nursing home!
- Minister out of love not obligation.
This is a tough one for me! I can grin and grit my teeth through anything because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s expected of me. 1 Corinthians 13:3 smashes my “good works” to pieces. “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love it profits me nothing.” Ouch! I can faithfully go to the nursing home every day, talk and pray with the residents, encourage the nurses – but if I don’t do it out of love it means nothing! Whatever ministry you struggle with, ask God to give you a heart of love so that it is not done in vain, God’s name is glorified, you grow to be a little more like Christ and maybe even truly enjoy being out of your comfort zone!
- Seek to be a blessing.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” The only way to “bear one another’s burdens” is to get our minds off our own burdens. It is always so amazing to me how when we step outside ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit to encourage someone, listen to them and meet a need – we receive a blessing instead! Serving others in Jesus’ name brings great joy and fulfillment because as Matthew 25:40 says when we serve “the lease of these” we have done it unto Christ.
Remember friends, in ministry we will all at some point be thrown into uncomfortable situations. Let us encourage each other to set aside our feelings and face our fears, minister out of love and seek to be a blessing because it’s all about the God who lives in and through us. As John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”!