Being on the other side

I visit a lot of folks in the hospital as part of my job. I know how to find clergy parking. I know how to hunt folks down when the hospital staff isn’t as helpful to tell you where a patient is. I know how to sit with a family as they wait for the results of a major test. I know how important it is to pray with a patient when the outcome is uncertain. It’s just what a pastor does.

428401602_d2a85e41a5But, what I didn’t know until recently what it was like to be on the other side of the hospital. I didn’t know what it was like to watch someone who means the world to you pass out and be rushed to the emergency room (when you thought you were just going to get a cup of coffee!) It was a new emotional experience. It’s a lot harder to receive care than it is to give it. It is a place of being where you appreciate things that you’d never had reason to think about before.

I didn’t know how important it was for someone to be with me while I waited for test results. (It is just not a time to be alone).

I didn’t know how much it would mean to be prayed for in actual words relayed by those dearest to us.

I didn’t know how much gifts of “Could I bring you something for dinner?” Or, “Could I take you to lunch?” meant. (I guess worry makes you forget to eat).

I didn’t know how the quality of bedside manner for a nurse makes or breaks your outlook. (If you have a caring nurse, it means the world!)

I didn’t know what a great gift texting is in a hospital environment (thank God for technology). There are just sometimes when you want folks to know how things are going, but you don’t have the energy to talk.

I didn’t know how appreciative I could be of every little bit of concern: kind thoughts sent our way through emails, visits, flowers, and all other well wishes. Nothing was under-appreciated in our book!

My pastoral presence for the loved ones of those receiving hospital care will be different now. I’ve been to the depths too. Presence and signs of tangible care mean everything!

And, now I wonder how families without the church go through times of illness and crisis without the support of loving communities? Who do they call? Who comes to visit them? The church for all its wrongs, certainly does right for many by simply showing up, even for its pastors.

Elizabeth Evans Hagan

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Elizabeth Evans Hagan is senior pastor at Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston, Va. She blogs about the life of faith, writing, and meaningful conversations in everyday life at Preacher on the Plaza (

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  • Jack Wolford

    My Mother died as a Baptist in Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River , Massachusetts with about seven of the Staff which included a retired Nun who had been a High School Principal  and  a lay person in black  and put on a “performance” of what I had always thought of as Baptist hymns that could have been given in a Revival –  They were that good .   Lots of brothers & sisters and her grandchildren most of which were Catholic  but wern’t there to hear it .  I’ve been in that hospital sick growing up with excellent care and it didn’t matter that I was a Baptist .  NOW !  In Va. Beach, VA ,  All three hospitals have been taken over by Sentara and are lousey .  I’ve only bgeen a patient in one but have been told the other two are the same .   Nurses with attitudes , doctors with foreign names , with attitudes – it really is a mess .  Don’t expect much even from telephone switchboard operators .