The number of times I've stayed overnight in a hospital can be counted on the fingers of one hand. While I'm grateful I haven't had occasion to sleep over more often, my hospital stays have been relatively joyous events – the birthing of children, a procedure to stop the birthing of children, and lately, my emergency elbow surgery.
Few people associate a hospital stay with the word joy. Successful, perhaps. Complicated, maybe. Painful, almost certainly. But joyous? Not so much.
Several factors contributed to make my recent hospital experience a happy one. Monitoring my level of pain was a primary concern. I was well cared for by a host of people, from a a doctor I trusted to a diligent nursing staff. And visitors! Not one, but two pastors stopped by from my church to make sure I was okay and to pray with me. My husband juggled working on his computer from the hospital waiting room with running back and forth to the house to check on our dogs with fetching me electronic gadgetry of various kinds. And my youngest son had just started driving back to his Louisiana home when he got the text message about my elbow; he turned his car right back around and was sitting in my room, flowers in hand, when I returned there from the recovery room! He ended up spending the night with me, his lengthy frame folded into the hard plastic recliner next to the bed. We cheered a local college basketball team on to victory and watched a favorite movie, all the while laughing and chatting a good deal of the night away. The next morning...breakfast in bed!...along with not one but three cups of coffee to combat the caffeine deprivation I was only just beginning to feel. What's not to like? I still smile at the memory, weeks after the fact.
Many people find themselves as reluctant to enter a church as they are to walk through the doors of a hospital. Previous experiences may have been painful for them for one reason or another, and they are reluctant to put themselves in a similar situation again, however badly they may need the services offered. Many only do so in desperation, when the pain they are carrying in their hearts becomes more than they can carry alone.
God never intended for His house to be anything but a place of hope and healing, restoration and joy, a place where hurting people are welcomed and invited to find the help they need. And the ones that are successful in meeting those goals have much in common with a good hospital. They offer real life solutions to pain and and chains of various kinds that people can't seem to overcome on their own. They are staffed by capable and caring individuals who are operating in their God-given gifts of service to others. Fellowship is readily available and encouraged, to lighten the heart and strengthen the bonds between family and friends. Great spiritual food is served up on a regular basis, and attenders are taught how to find such sustenance for themselves. Follow-up and feedback are words they are not just familiar with, but work into their schedules.
When scheduling the second surgery on my elbow, my doctor asked me which hospital I preferred, as he worked out of several in the local area. While they all offer the same basic services, each is a little different in the way they do things. And the same is true of most churches; the same God operates in them all, which one you choose is mainly a matter of personal preference. As with my elbow, sometimes one visit simply isn't enough. The important thing is to keep looking until you get the help you need... and a smile on your face that refuses to fade away.
“The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.”
-Morton T. Kelsey