Across my twenty-three years of serving sports teams I have had many occasions to visit emergency rooms, hospital rooms, and surgery centers with players, coaches, and administrators of the sporting community. While these are never pleasant occasions, they are regularly moments of the most profound and impactful ministry. I’d like to offer some observations from those visits and some tips for how to approach them, as they will certainly come to you as well.
One never feels competent when walking into an emergency room, hospital, or surgery center. Every time I approach the front door of one of these facilities I feel inadequate. I wonder what I have to offer. I wonder about what I am about to encounter. I wonder if I’ll be able to handle the gravity of the moment and the potential emotional flood that awaits me. Every time, I stop, pray, and keep walking. This is not about me, nor my training, nor my ability to empathize, nor my ability to console, it’s about being Christ Jesus’ presence in a time of crisis. The Lord invariably carries me along in each situation, to my utter amazement.
Care for the people, respect the medical personnel, listen to the hearts. Early on in my experience I felt compelled to have the right words to say, but of late I seldom have anything to say. There are no magic words to make everything okay. A much better approach is to ask questions to open their hearts and to help them deal with their fears, questions, and worries. Treat the medical personnel; nurses, technicians, administrators, and doctors, with respect and understand your boundaries. Ask permission to go to more secure places in serving the patient, his or her family, and significant others. I have been allowed into intensive care units, maternity rooms, surgery prep rooms, recovery rooms, and other locations that are highly privileged spots because I treated the personnel with respect and earned their trust over time. Ask good questions, speak in low tones, respect privacy, and look people in the eye. Their hearts will open widely to you.
Bring a resource for their encouragement. The coming hours and days are likely to have a lot of time to read as their normal life of activity is interrupted by bed rest, doctor visits, waiting for appointments, and weeks of recovery. I often bring a devotional book, a book of prayers, or simply a card written with encouraging words and scriptures. I will fold down the corners of pages of the devotions that could have particular relevance to one recovering from injury, or I’ll put Post It notes in pages of a prayer book to catch the attention of those being served. Long after we have left their presence, these resources speak to their hearts and enable them to connect with the Lord in their most desperate hours.
Offer to pray, privately. When I am with a patient and his or her family, I watch for the most appropriate moment to pray with them. As I am chatting with the people, I am listening for their hearts to open. I am seeking a moment with sufficient privacy to lean in, to offer to pray, to take a hand or to touch the injured shoulder, knee, or ankle, and to lift a quiet, intense, and unashamed prayer for the Lord’s healing power to move in my friend’s life. I pray for the immediate concern, for the patient’s anxiety, for the doctor’s skill, for quick and complete recovery, and for restoration to the sport they love. Above all, I pray for the Lord to accomplish His purposes in this person’s life.
Leave with encouragement and an invitation to stay connected. I don’t normally stay throughout the entire surgery, nor a long time in a hospital visit. Staying too long usually becomes awkward and ends poorly. After we have chatted, connected well, and prayed together, I am usually headed for the door. I will leave my card and an invitation to stay connected by phone or SMS message. I say, “I’ll see you at practice. Let me know if I can serve you in any way. I’ll look forward to your return to the team.” This visit is simply one step in the long process of relationship development, but it is an important one. Make the best of this opportunity and then watch for the next one.
As I have been writing, a number of situations have flashed through my mind. Many of them have been instrumental in the development of relationships with coaches, competitors, doctors, nurses, and even administrators. I pray that your service is also graced by the beautifully intimidating experience of ministry in hospital rooms, ERs, surgery waiting rooms, and even hospice situations. The Lord Jesus walks into those moments with us, carries us along in His purposes, and accomplishes His will through us.