10 Ways to Love the Sick

As I write this, Los Angeles is on heightened alert in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Our church campus will be closed for weeks to do our part to contain the spread of the virus and love our neighbors well. Our services will be livestreamed, and we’ve been challenged in a good way to be creative with how to worship. Another good thing that has come of this is that the church is being spurred on to lift up her eyes and consider how to best love those who are sick and/or homebound—not only those with flu-like illness, but also the elderly and shut-ins, people with disabilities, and those with chronic illness. These are all demographics that the church is called to serve. In light of that, I’d like to offer some very practical suggestions for how to do that.

You might look at the list below and think, “There’s no way I can do that.” And if you can’t, that’s okay. You’re not meant to do everything to care for the sick. This is a communal call, where you are just one part of the varied body of Christ that works together to lift one another up. At the same time, everyone is called to do something. The exhortation to you right now is to determine what one thing you can do for someone, and then commit to doing it.

The commitment portion of this is not to be underestimated. Sacrificial giving for others is never easy or convenient. If it were, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. Whatever you give—whether it’s time, energy, money, or effort—you’re going to feel the cost. It's going to be a resource that you would have rather given to something else in your life. But sacrificial kingdom work is not optional for the people of God. It’s what we do. On the night that Jesus was betrayed (by one of the very men whose dirty feet he had just hand-washed) he said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Loving one another is the mark of genuine Christians, and it’s the primary way that we show the world what Jesus is like.

Given that sacrificial care for one another is not a matter of whether we do it but how we do it, here are some practical ways to consider loving the sick and/or homebound. Again, while I am writing this in the context of a contagious virus (in which case I also exhort you to use common sense and appropriate precautions for individual interactions), all of these things are always needed for the sick in our community who don’t have communicable diseases. I recommend starting with your community group to consider who might benefit from the following:

  1. Check in on the caregiver. Oftentimes when one person in the family is sick, another person assumes the responsibilities for care, including the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and childcare—in addition to whatever else they may be doing to support the family. This is a heavy burden to bear alone. Check in with those for whom responsibilities are amplified and ask what their needs are, both personally and practically.

  2. Drop off groceries or send food. Similar to how our church uses Take Them a Meal to bless new parents, providing a meal for a family during a time of sickness can be a great blessing. Whether it’s something homemade or ordering local take-out for delivery, alleviating the stress of shopping and preparing can make a huge difference to those who are already stretched thin. Be sure to check in with the family first to determine any dietary restrictions.

  3. Help with the kids. Obviously this will vary depending on who is sick and with what kind of illness, but if germ containment allows, helping to watch the kids can be a game changer for a family. If a parent is overwhelmed with one sick sibling, offer to take the other healthy sibling on a walk around the neighborhood. If you’re able to supervise the kiddos while the parent tackles the laundry pile (and there will always be a laundry pile) or goes to a doctor’s appointment (see next suggestion), this also can be helpful.

  4. Help with doctor’s appointments. For those with chronic illness, doctor’s appointments can be frequent and stressful. Ask if coming with them would be helpful, either to drive them, to listen to the doctor’s recommendations and take notes for them, or to pick up the prescriptions for the patient afterward.

  5. Be present with them. Illness, whether temporary or chronic, can be incredibly isolating. If circumstances allow you to be physically present, even in limited capacity, this is a tremendous display of sacrificial love. Even if you feel like you’re not “doing anything”, sometimes the greatest show of love is just showing up for someone. While you’re there, take the time to listen, and you’ll likely get insight into what further needs might be.

  6. Include them virtually. If you can’t be in someone’s physical presence, consider how to include them virtually. Skype, Google Chat, and FaceTime are options for community group gatherings or one-on-one conversations. Virtual options are not perfect, but they still go a long way toward making a person feel loved by way of inclusion and assurance that they are not forgotten.

  7. Text them. No matter how sick you are or how trying the circumstance, you will find a way to check your cell phone. While these tiny devices can sometimes cause us to socially isolate, they can also be a crucial lifeline for those who have limited communication with the outside world. What you might view as a simple text message is a life-giving reminder to someone else that they are remembered and valued by you.

  8. Pray for them. It’s so easy to disregard prayer in a list of practical suggestions, isn’t it? Well, of course I can pray, but tell me what I can really do. We know better, though. Pause for a moment and appreciate the fact that the God of the universe, the Creator of our bodies and our souls, cares for you. Listens to you. Responds to you. If there’s only one person in all existence who actually can do something for us, then asking him to do that something is as practical as it gets. If you aren’t able to pray with someone in their presence, consider typing the prayer in a text or sending it as an email so that the person can be encouraged by your actual words.

  9. Give when appropriate. All of these suggestions require giving of some sort (of time and energy at the least), and sometimes practical help will mean passing on material blessing. The early church of Acts 2:45 distributed to all, as any had need. Whether it’s food or finances, giving generously out of what God has given you to steward might just make sense to meet someone’s need. Is giving money too impersonal? Not necessarily, if you have a meaningful conversation with that person about it. Like many things in our faith, heart motivation and intentional communication make all the difference.

  10. If you can’t meet a request, consider how to relay it. Sometimes when someone is suffering, you might hear of a need that you can’t meet and be discouraged about that. But remember, care within the church is communal. Maybe you can’t meet that need, but what if you shared that need with your community group (with the person’s permission)? What if you knew someone else who could meet that need, and passed the request along? Never underestimate the power of being a bridge between people. Relaying a request might make all the difference between it happening or not (see number 8 on this list).

What other ways can you think of to bless someone who is suffering physically? Let us thoughtfully consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24), not lacking in creativity when it comes to loving one another.