I made several trips to the hospital with my dad while he battled cancer, sometimes in emergencies and other times for regular appointments and treatments. He received exceptional care. My mom received generous support. And I got to witness much of it. As I did, I wondered what made this hospital and its staff so special. What if the church was more like it?
People are always welcome. I saw people in a variety of conditions—physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally—enter the doctors’ offices and hospital, whether it was a planned or emergency situation. Everyone received the same warm welcome. Each person was treated as a valuable person: not a project, nuisance, or uncomfortable inconvenience.
People have time to talk—in plain English. Doctors and nurses rarely rush in and out of rooms. They sit down, look people in the eye, and speak in a language others can understand. They listen to questions and are patient through confusion and off-topic stories. One of dad’s doctors didn’t know dad had been admitted on a weekend, but stopped by once he heard the news and talked for a half hour. We’ve been approached by doctors we didn’t know, when we apparently looked lost roaming hallways and staring at elevator panels, and asked if we needed help getting somewhere.
People followed up. Not once did we have to follow up with anybody who said they would call, make an appointment, or give more information. Many times, doctors and others went above and beyond even when they hadn’t obligated themselves to contact us. The head of a department, who didn’t even treat my dad any longer, called at least twice to check on him when she heard he wasn’t doing well.
People told the truth…with compassion. That’s a difficult balance to strike. Bad news must be delivered, but it doesn’t have to be thrown at someone. Authenticity and kindness can co-exist, not only to soften an initial blow but also to invite a partnering process that continues through the highs and lows of life.
People touched each other. In today’s age of accusations and lawsuits, many are wary of the appearance of closeness, let alone actually touching someone. Plus, there is the concern over germs. Healthcare professionals took every hygiene precaution imaginable (except for that one nurse’s aid who laid something on the floor then tried to put it in the bed with my dad: “No, ma’am; please get us another.”). Yet they frequently touched my dad’s shoulder or hand while speaking to him. When people hadn’t seen dad for a while or knew things weren’t going well, they didn’t hesitate to hug him or my mom, sometimes with a big smile and sometimes with teary eyes.
People continue to learn. Even though they are the healthcare professionals, doctors and others were always pursuing new information, treatments, and possibilities. If they didn’t think they were the best person, they deferred to someone else. They worked together, having weekly boards that addressed various patients’ needs to combine their efforts and find the best next step for each specific situation.
Perhaps we in churches should ask ourselves:
- How welcoming are we to a variety of people? Do we expect something of them or have prejudices that draw or repel us?
- Do we take time for people on their timetables and needs instead of our own? Do we speak plainly and simply, and do we answer their questions instead of pushing our agendas?
- Do we do what we say we will do? Are we living authentic lives, not just with one individual or within the church but with everyone and in every situation inside and outside the church walls?
- Do we speak the truth in love? Do we represent Jesus well with His boldness, compassion, kindness, confrontation, sacrifice, and understanding? Or do we isolate some of His characteristics and rationalize the way we approach people because it is the way we are most comfortable?
- Are we willing to live with others even when it is messy and risky, or do we try to keep our lives sterile, protecting ourselves from potential struggles, sacrifices, and inconveniences?
- Are we constantly learning, setting aside declarations that we have all the answers, even when we are more experienced than others? Are we willing to humbly join others to pursue truth? Are we willing to change?
The hospital, and it seemed everyone in it, was constantly evaluating in an effort to stay relevant and exceptional. In the church, as well as individually, we often look for what we’re doing well but hold back from finding our weaknesses or ways to improve our strengths. Celebrating successes is important, but so is growing toward more successes by being honest with essential improvements to make.
Perhaps we can become more like this hospital. After all, we all need healing and compassionate care.