Every third Thursday, like clockwork, a card arrives. It’s been four years since Mark started the day-long treatments, and there is always a card waiting when he gets home. How do they do it? His sisters. One’s in California, two are in Ohio, and still they figure out how to time a fresh message of love and encouragement to land in a Pennsylvania mailbox on the days Mark needs it most.
Every third Thursday. Sounds like a good title for a book! Something like Tuesdays with Morrie, perhaps. For now, it’s giving me food for reflection on the words of Jesus: “I was sick and you visited me” (see Matthew 25:31-40).
By visiting the sick—even when “visits” have to be from far away, through cards or texts or zoom calls—we visit Christ, he says. It’s the kind of thing that separates the righteous “sheep” who are blessed by God from the cursed “goats.” Along with other works of mercy, it’s the kind of behavior that marks the ones who go to heaven.
Wow. It’s not healing that gets the kudos, but visiting. “Just” visiting. Why such praise for such a little thing? Because as much as it means to the sick person, it’s hard for us to do. It requires time and thought and presence. It interrupts our day. Maybe we have “better” things to do, or more urgent things, or things we can actually accomplish. We feel inadequate, or we get tired. We put in our time and move on. Meanwhile, loneliness can feel worse than the illness, to the sick.
We forget that even our presence is a gift.
James says that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …” (1:27). There it is again: that little word “visit.” The importance of presence, of being there for others. Of going out of our way on behalf of someone else, even if we can’t make a material difference in their situation.
JUST BE THERE.
I think of Mary and the beloved disciple and the women who stood by the Cross as Jesus suffered and died. Unable to do a thing to change things, but being there for him. Every time we visit someone who’s sick or suffering, we’re standing there by the Cross, offering our comfort and presence to Jesus even as we draw strength from him to comfort others.
Do you know someone who is sick? Can you visit them? How can you give them the gift of your presence, even if they’re far away?
© 2021 Sarah Christmyer