One doesn’t typically reach my age without the onset of one or more health issues that must be confronted. So, in this 75th year of my life, I have had lower back surgery to help ease the pain in my hips and legs, and now I am scheduled to have a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted in my chest to increase my heart rate and improve the efficiency of my heart’s pumping blood to the rest of my body.
On the one hand, I am grateful that I have not contracted COVID or had to fight that battle that has plagued millions around our nation and world. I am so thankful for protection from this deadly disease because of coronavirus protocols, and especially for my two vaccinations. Additionally, I know that a host of dedicated scientists, medical personnel, frontline workers and government health officials have helped to keep me safe.
On the other hand, I am painfully aware that my body really is the age to which my birth certificate attests, despite the way I perceive myself when I look in the mirror.
I represent many people who have met or will face health crises and medical procedures when I say that receiving thoughtful, personal messages and pledges of prayer brings a sense of peace that is invaluable. The ministry of care and compassion toward others is an activity that is easy to relegate to a congregation’s senior adults, church staff or Benevolence Committee, but we who follow the Jesus Way should all be involved in this kind of active encouragement of others who are suffering.
“We who follow the Jesus Way should all be involved in this kind of active encouragement of others who are suffering.”
In Galatians 6:2, Paul admonishes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Similarly, the writer of 1 Timothy advises, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” Bearing one another’s burdens and making supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone — these activities are not simply the Christ-like work of pastors, deacons, elders or committee members. These simple acts should be the good ministry engagement of everyone.
In the past couple of weeks, I have received more than a hundred emails and phone calls from friends whose words have lifted my sagging spirit and created a calm that overcomes my worry and fear. Through their messages, these colleagues, former students and members of my church or missionary family have strengthened my weak heart. Of course, I have heard from scores of Christian sisters and brothers, but also from friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jain. With their words they have helped to actualize the promise of Jesus that I can experience peace that passes all understanding.
All these messages, and the friends from whom they originated, have been meaningful to me. A few of these communications, however, were crafted in such a way that they became a healing salve to my wounded psyche. I draw from some of them to illustrate, from the perspective of one who needed encouragement, the kind of messages that have great power to heal.
- Statements that express how stirred one feels to be trusted with sobering information and asked for help are gratifying. “Thank you for this update. I feel moved to receive it and it speaks to the quality of our relationship.”
- Statements that recall and celebrate the friendship shared through the years are upbuilding. “We do pledge continued prayers of thanks for the blessing of your and Janie’s loving friendship through the years. What a miracle is human friendship . . . every bit as much as this marvel of science and biological engineering.”
- Statements that articulate the depth of one’s love and relationship are empowering. “With love to my ailing brother, (I am) hoping you’ll keep us updated on how you’re feeling after your procedure.”
- Statements that identify personally with the problem with positivity and hope are reassuring. “So glad you are getting the help you need. (My husband) had a heart attack in 1989 and has had a defibrillator for nearly 30 years. It has never gone off.”
- Statements that paint a promising future after the crisis passes are enlivening. “Rob, we have more travel and writing to do, so stay well.”
- Statements that voice one’s genuine appreciation for the one who is suffering are heartwarming. “You and Janie have deep influence in my life, and I celebrate every moment of healing for you both. I also celebrate every millimeter of your compassionate heart, which you’ve poured out to so many!”
- Statements that apply Scripture creatively and individually are inspiring. “The hip problem (with all its pain) was a gift from the Lord. Otherwise, they would have discovered your heart problem in the autopsy. I continue to be amazed at the way the Lord blesses us. Should we change your name to Jacob, since the Lord touched you in the hip?”
- Statements that admonish one to have courage and trust are emboldening. “My very best. Enjoy the pacemaker/defibrillator and the approaching spring with hope and expectation.”
During this season when I have been reminded both of my age and human frailty as well as how rich is the treasure I have been gifted in the lives of coworkers, mentees, family and friends, I feel greatly blessed. I am supported by powerful messages of solidarity and pledges of prayer. I am also challenged to use my own voice in all of my remaining days as an encouragement to others I know who are hurting.
Rob Sellers is professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas. He is a past chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He and his wife, Janie, served a quarter century as missionary teachers in Indonesia. They have two children and five grandchildren.