Checking on the flock
Went to see an elderly lady in the nursing home today. Since summer was so busy, I hadn't been over to see her since the spring. I didn't recognize her at first. Her hair, which has always been permed and styled, was simply brushed back. She might not have been wearing her teeth, either. Nor did she recognize me, but that's more a matter of her decline than my changing appearance. This is the first time she hasn't recognized me in all the years I've been calling on her, although I have noticed that when others have called on her before now, she sometimes hasn't remembered me visiting. She seemed otherwise in good health, but since she's deaf as a post, I couldn't shout loud enough for us to have much of a conversation. All in all, a frustrating visit.
Part of pastoral ministry is calling on shut-ins, even if only to keep track of how they're doing. It's satisfying to have a good visit with somebody and pray with them, but there comes a time when visits are no longer about exchange and when prayers are no longer understood. When that time comes, we can only pray for them, not with them -- but we still need to see them with our own eyes from time to time. We owe it to them to see how they are being cared for and -- even more -- to keep ourselves informed about their condition. It shapes our prayers for them, and it is part of our accountability to God. The sheep are still part of the flock, even when they are no longer able to interact with the other sheep, and the shepherd still has to see how they're doing now and then.