I am a hands-on kind of person. I like to visit, exchange messages, and join groups. With this much involvement, I considered my time in retirement rich and satisfying. Yes, life was full, God was good. Then the pandemic hit.
There was no toilet paper, no bleach, and no spring softball games. With my own family widely spread across the country, I was dreading many weeks alone in my hometown.
My church was in constant prayer about ways to keep us connected. Volunteers were asked to make telephone or video calls. I began by calling the familiar names on my list. As I reflected on these conversations, I realized that encouragement doesn’t need to be a one-way street. My spirit was lifted and my prayers for others took on a new and more personal meaning.
Susan was a widow with only a cousin nearby. With no children and her siblings living in distant New York, she relied on church to be family. As I punched in her phone number, I was ordering in mind what to say to relieve loneliness and fear from the virus. I soon discovered a good phone visit can be the fruit of genuine concern for others. What a great visit, as she described her family, her married life, and adventures as a young woman. Even though I had known Susan for many years, her travels and life experiences were entirely new to me.
Annie had recently lost her grown daughter following an extended illness. Her grief resulted from the deep pain that can only come from loss of a child. After several months, she had made the hard decision to leave her home and move into a continuing care facility. Again, I braced myself. How could I be a comfort? I had never experienced the kind of loss she faced. Once again, conversation flowed smoothly as Annie expressed deep thankfulness for her new living environment. She loved the flowers and birds outside her window, the friendly staff, three meals of good food—more than she could eat, and the calls she received from her remaining grown children. I soon realized, only the Spirit of God could give this woman such a thankful heart. Only the Spirit’s prompting could give her the words of encouragement she extended to me.
Judy and I had worked together for about a year. I had always appreciated her integrity and commitment to the workplace. Several months before the pandemic she had become seriously ill. At home now, she had many fears and concerns for her health and for the safety of her adult children. Her husband, being an essential worker, feared becoming infected and contaminating their home. Once again, God was faithful to provide comforting words to a family who faced many challenges because of prior health concerns.
I began to see a pattern in how people respond and how I can best communicate my love and concern, and more importantly, the love of God for them. I learned to stop, look, and listen.
STOP — Give people enough silence to respond. Spaces within the conversation give them time to reflect and express their needs.
LOOK — Pay attention to their facial expressions, environment, and other signs of their anxiety or peace.
LISTEN — Be ready for the Holy Spirit to tell you what may be comforting, affirming, or encouraging.
The psalmist was right…
“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast trusting in the LORD” (Psalm 112:7 NIV).
Even as I applied these simple steps, I remembered to pray, “Lord, may my words benefit others according to the need of the moment.”
Copyright © 2020 Carol A. Brown, used with permission.