Both of my grandmothers spent a few years in nursing homes during their final years on earth. During part of that time I served as the interim pastor in the town where they stayed. I visited them routinely, and came to realize how significant such visits were. One of my grandmothers recognized me. One did not. My visits proved beneficial to them as well as to me. I also included residents who were members of the church in my routine visits. I have made doing so a part of my ministry for over forty years.
It is important to keep certain things in mind while making a nursing home visit.
Remember that nursing home visits please God. James 1:27 lists visiting widows in their affliction as a characteristic of pure, undefiled religion before God the Father. Time is never wasted while visiting those in a nursing home. God cares very much for His people through every stage of life and uses us to evidence that care.
Remember that nursing home visits should be kept short. In reality, residents of nursing homes require very little, but they require that very little very much. Spending time visiting with them brightens their day and allows them to feel connected to their church home. An extended visit is not necessary.
Remember that nursing home visits should include prayer. After visiting, conclude by asking if they have a prayer request. If they do, include it in your prayer. If they don’t, pray for them anyway. Volunteering to pray ends the visit on a very positive note. You can and should also pray for residents who are asleep. Toward the end of their lives some residents will be asleep most of the time. Pause and pray quietly for the resident even if they are unaware.
Remember that nursing home visits should be documented. Keep a list of those you visit in nursing homes, and place the date of the visit next to the name of the resident each time you visit them. This allows you to monitor the frequency and diversity of your visits. Include all from your church, not just a couple of leaders from the past.
Remember that nursing home visits will soften your heart. Pastoral ministry can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. Entering a nursing home and visiting with someone facing major challenges has a way of putting everything back into perspective. You may enter the facility with the intent of sharing encouragement with the residents. You will leave the facility having been encouraged by God. We should count our blessings at all times. We can really count our blessings while we are visiting with those who have lost their eyesight, mobility, or their memory.
Remember that nursing home visits should include leaving a business card. If the resident is asleep, their family will know that you have dropped by and it will bless them. Even if the resident is alert they may forget that you have stopped by. You can inconspicuously leave a card on a table as you exit. It is primary that the Lord knows you have been by. It is also helpful if the resident’s family knows you have been by.
My mother now lives in assisted living. She struggles to see and hear. Nothing reminds her that she remains a significant person in the kingdom of God like when fellow believers stop by and visit. Simple visits pay significant dividends in the lives of seasoned saints.
Earl Stephenson is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Weatherford, OK and can be reached at email@example.com