Nursing homes are scary. Not only is there the perpetual smell of urine and chemical cleaners, there’s the constant blathering of a thousand TVs all set to something different…not to mention they’re full of little old ladies who mistake you for their daughter (when actually you’re their son).
And yet…Those little old ladies are sick, lonely, inching towards death, trapped in this mysterious and scary place that smells like body fluids, and could sure use a smiling face to set the day apart from all others.
In short…they could use YOU to break up the week and bring some cheer into their pain and uncertainty!
Impossible, you say? You could never go visiting in a nursing home? You’d rather be caught dead than in one of those places? (Jinx.)
It’s not as scary as you think. Check out these tips for visiting a nursing home…and then you might decide that even you can help out in this important ministry!
Starting is the Hardest
The first time I visited a nursing home, I wasn’t sure I would make it.
When you walk in, you might not know anyone. Besides the intimidating environment, you don’t know what to expect. Anything could happen.
You’re there to “love on people” and “touch lives”…but what does that even look like in real life?
You won’t know until you try. And chances are, it’ll look different in your case than it did in mine…but don’t give up!
Here are some strategies to make those new friends:
- Walk down the hall, knock on doors, and see who smiles back at you. Chances are good that people will let you say hello for a few minutes, if you just ask.
- Contact the staff of the facility where you’re visiting, and ask them which residents don’t have family or friends in the area…or which residents might enjoy having the Bible or a devotional read to them. The staff will probably be excited to help you…Our bodies heal faster when our minds and emotions are in good shape!
- Bring a dog, baby, or small child with you. People will come to you to make friends!
- Talk to the activities director or other person in charge, and bring a craft, special movie night, or other activity in to the facility. Those who are able and interested in participating will show up…and now you have a connection for other visiting opportunities!
- Go see someone you already know: a relative, former church member, or friend of someone you know. Chances are they’ll have a roommate you can talk to at the same time, and you might meet someone in the hallway you can get to know.
It does get better!
You’ll get the hang of things, find a routine, and make new friends.
Just like the first day of school, the first month in a new town, or the first few weeks in a new apartment building…it’ll take getting used to.
Just remember: there are no strangers – only friends you haven’t met yet!
Take a Buddy
Yes, you’re there to make new friends…but sometimes the best way to do that is to bring old friends!
From the disciples Jesus sent out, to Paul and Silas and Barnabas and John Mark, to the multiple-elder model of the Biblical church, we’re supposed to do ministry together.
Not only does this provide accountability, to 1) keep us on the straight and narrow and 2) protect our reputation from the Enemy…but it’s also more fun!
Walking into a strange place to speak to people you don’t know is a lot less intimidating when you have a buddy at your side. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or someone from your church, take that buddy!
You can’t swim without a buddy…don’t try to visit without a buddy. They’ll be there for you when you don’t know what to say, they’ll be a prayer partner with you, and they’ll keep the ball rolling on days when you can’t make it.
No one ever said you had to do this alone! So don’t try 🙂
Don’t Worry About What You’ll Say
My grandma, dying of brain cancer
What do you do when an old lady looks right at you and says, “I’m dying?”
When a woman tells you she has cancer?
When someone weeps about the disfunction in her family, and how she’s not getting the care she wants?
Just like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the temptation is to open our big mouths and fix everybody’s problems.
Sometimes they need their problems fixed. Sometimes God put us there to share Jesus with them and point them to ultimate healing.
And sometimes…the very best thing we can do is sit beside them, holding their hand and crying with them.
It feels like doing diddly-squat. But people appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
Pray. A Lot. For Everything
What about the times when you need to say something?
You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside you, right? Leave it to Him.
If He starts poking you from the inside, whispering, “This lady will go to Hell without Me — introduce us!” you just better listen is all I’m saying.
And as long as you’re having good, long conversations with Him on a daily basis, you’ll have the strength you need.
Pray for one another
You can also pray for your friends – new and old!
While it’s vital that you spend quality time with God for your own spiritual health, it’s also important to bring others before him.
Your contacts in the nursing home will have obvious needs (physical, emotional, and spiritual) that you should tell your Father about…but what about your visiting buddies?
Don’t forget to pray for them, too — that they will have just the right words to say, that they will meet just the right person God wants them to minister to, and that they will be strong on the days that are hard.
(And encourage them to pray for you, too!)
Just Showing Up Means the World
If you don’t take anything else away from this post, learn this:
Don’t sweat it.
God is able to take your little, pathetic efforts, and work His grand, amazing scheme out of it.
You’ve taken the first step. God doesn’t ask us to give Him everything all at once…just one thing more.
And until you actually step out, you’ll have no idea how much five minutes of conversation actually means to someone!
Just one short conversation with someone who isn’t paid to be there, who isn’t necessarily related to them, and who’s only there to brighten their day…people will be so grateful, it’ll break your heart.
Like dieting, exercising, cleaning the house, and other good habits, consistency is key.
Go once a week…or even every other week. That’s all. No pressure.
The more you show up, over and over again, the deeper your relationships with the patients will be. They’ll start to expect you. They’ll remember you from last time, and smile.
You’ll have made a friend.
They’re the ones stuck in a nursing home, so it’ll be up to you to make the effort. But you can do it!
(Not only that, but the staff will start to notice your commitment and faithfulness…which gives you another place to shine Jesus’ love!)
Just show up – week after week, month after month – and people will begin to trust you…in a way that they can’t trust someone who might or might not show up, maybe.
Find a schedule that works for you.
Don’t let yourself make excuses. If this is what God wants you to be doing with your time, make sure you get it done.
And again…don’t sweat it. Emergencies will come up, you’ll miss a day here and there…and sometimes your “contacts” will be out, too.
Just make sure that, when you commit, you really mean it.
It’ll mean the world to some poor senior or patient.
Pray – All the Time – For Everything
Did I mention this?
It’s not super hard to remember to pray for your new friends…especially if you write it down and ask your ministry partners to hold you accountable.
What I find harder is remembering to pray before I go visiting…and to pray for the right words, that God will lead us to the right people, that I will trust Him in every situation, etc.
Look at that smile 🙂
But this is just as important.
Pray for your fellow visitors. Also pray for the families of the people you will meet, and for the staff, and for the healthcare system as a whole (it needs it, trust me).
Pray that Jesus will be evident in every single action we take.
In this way, you will immerse yourself in God’s will, and invite His Holy Spirit to take charge of your life – and of your commitment to visiting.
I said “take a buddy.” The Holy Spirit is the best buddy you can take.
You Will Fall in Love
I keep saying, “You’ll make new friends.” This is not a figure of speech.
You might just get addicted to this. If a week goes by, and you don’t visit your little buddies, you’ll feel weird.
You’ll have deep conversations…some hard, some amazingly cool. You’ll get to gush about Jesus, and maybe find out you have “brothers and sisters” in some unexpected places.
Your heart will break. You’ll be built up. You will touch the lives of some lonely, desperate people.
God doesn’t call all of us to this kind of ministry…but if He’s calling you, don’t be afraid. He’s got this!
Now go be sunshine to someone who needs it!
Kimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American Midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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