"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)
Carl was 88 years old and living all alone in a small apartment. After a long marriage, his wife had passed away several years before, and, because the rest of Carl's family had also passed, and because he had no children, his life was mostly spent alone in his home with the television providing the only voices and faces that he encountered each day. There were plenty of neighbors sharing the building, but they were mostly younger folks who were busy with their own lives.
One day, the local ambulance service received a call that said an 88 year old man, at this address, was having chest pains. Upon arrival, they checked Carl thoroughly, including running an ECG that would detect any heart abnormalities. Finding no problems with any of his vital signs, they advised him to call his regular doctor the next day if the pain continued. As they left, one EMT was overheard wondering if his pain was caused from a broken heart.
I had a very dear friend named Billye. She was a ray of sunshine and loved everyone. She kind of adopted me as one of her own children and we became very close. She was the one who encouraged me to seek ordination and was very excited when I chose to become certified for Hospice chaplaincy. We had no way of knowing that she would be the first person that would request my services.
After being diagnosed with a rapidly progressive brain tumor, it became necessary for her daughters to place her in a nursing home. Wednesdays became my day to visit with her and she always grabbed my hand when I walked through her door. One day, she asked me what she should expect as she neared death and I told her that some people reported seeing loved ones, angels, or even Jesus before they passed. When she responded that she hadn't seen anyone, I told her it wasn't time yet.
During my next to last visit with Billye, she simply asked me to sing "Jesus Loves Me" with her, so we sang it together. As I sat beside her bed, holding her sweet hand, she closed her eyes. I truly don't know if she was conscious or not, but she began saying, "Hi! Oh, hi!" as though she was greeting someone she hadn't seen in awhile. I was amazed and felt so honored to have been there for that moment. My husband and I went to see her the following Saturday and my dear friend passed away on Monday.
The elderly are among those in the greatest need of compassion. Often they are unable to get out of their homes without assistance. So many are in nursing homes because of health issues that cannot be dealt with at home, or in assisted living facilities because they simply are unable to live independently any longer. Physical issues, along with memory diseases, steal familiar lives from these dear souls. And many never receive visitors. No one knocks on their door with cookies, asks if there is anything they need, or if they would just like someone to sit with them for awhile and give them some company.
Brothers and sisters, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, scripture tells us we are transformed, that we become new creatures. John 13:35 tells us, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Once the love of Christ enters our hearts, we need to be using it to bless others. There are so many with needs. Some we can meet, others we can't. But visiting with the lonely is free and blesses them beyond measure. Just to open their doors to the smiling face of a friend can change their entire outlook on life.
I would like to encourage each of us to take the opportunity to hold an aged hand, visit someone that is lonely, or even just to send a card to a dear one in need of a smile. All it takes is a little bit of thought and a small amount of time. May God lead us all.