It all began with a rush to the emergency room after school. I called friends from the car asking them to notify our church. I prayed that my triage at home was incorrect, that I was just being overly concerned. Unfortunately, testing revealed that my worries were well-founded. My son was having a life-threatening internal bleed in his hip area. He was hospitalized while a plan was formulated for treatment. He would have to maintain a higher level of clotting factor by being infused more frequently. The following day our boy would have a PICC line placed in his arm. This central venous access device would provide a less painful way to administer the more frequent treatments. Mobility restrictions also confronted us. It was stressful.
At a time like this, a parent like me relies on her faith to get through the trauma. My children have also been raised to lean fully on God when they are facing life's toughest challenges. Is it any wonder then, that we would call my son's youth pastor to ask him to come visit him in the hospital?
Unfortunately, getting anyone from our church to come visit us was about as easy as getting a politician to admit they were wrong. My son held his youth pastor in such high regard. He told me he was too busy to come and eventually, sent a reluctant youth group leader instead. Visibly uncomfortable, the youth leader struggled to have 15 minutes of friendly conversation with my son. I don't even recall if he prayed with us. However, I do remember the agonizing, bone-chilling silence after that visit. There were no additional visits. No calls followed to see how our son was doing. Not even a simple greeting card came in the mail.
Lest I sound unduly harsh, this same pastoral team has previously and since piled all sorts of youth into hospital rooms for other "typical" kids. That was never our experience. During another of our son's other serious hospital stays, the church had sent in a deacon who barely knew us. He eventually came to pray with us after he was done at work that day. We never heard back or received support from our church after that stay either.
NOT ALONE AT BEING ALONE
I know that I am not the only parent that endures this heartache on top of the medical heartache that comes with a child's diagnosis. When your church doesn't miss you enough to wonder why you are not there, it is a knife in a parent's heart. The gospel message declares that Christ should be the one place of refuge, love, and acceptance for even the least of God's children. When we are further marginalized by our own churches, it feels like we are being pushed away from God himself.
It never ceases to stun me that a church will send missions teams to every corner of the world, yet fail to offer kindness and mercy to the hurting right in their midst.
Perhaps it isn't as "sexy" or showy for congregations to extend compassion to their own church members. Still, Christ admonishes us to serve with humility, not fanfare. (See Matthew 6:1-4) What life-changers might the Church TRULY be if they loved families like mine with tenderness and self-denial?
Instead, Christian churches continue to drive more of the hurting and needy away just as the Pharisees once did. My own children are not fans of youth group or church after being left in the cold by their spiritual leaders so many times. My two younger children struggle with a certain level of spiritual atrophy because they need more building up in their faith than I can offer them along in the home. That adds even more hurt to my mom heart.
DRAWING A BIGGER CIRCLE
The church could turn this avoidance-of-the-uncomfortable around in simple ways:
- Have small group leaders notify the church if one of their members is in crisis.
- Ask deacons to call those who haven't been able to make it to church for a few weeks to make sure they're okay. Let those being called know they are missed.
- Solicit volunteers to write out greeting cards to let those church members who are in crisis know they are being thought about and prayed for.
- Pastors (usually an outreach or pastoral care pastor) should call a family when they know their child has been hospitalized.
- Have church staff check in with a family in crisis to make certain their basic needs are being met. Gather volunteer teams to help meet those needs.
With churches continually concerned about dwindling attendance, perhaps it is time to stop looking at bigger, flashier systems or methodologies, and instead start serving like Jesus and his disciples. People like me want a sense of belonging, a place where people care about us and our kids. We want to be missed when we are not at church and to be enabled to return to our house of worship.