on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Visiting the Sick

This post is the seventh in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

There was something about visiting persons in the hospital that my father loved for as long as I can remember.

Personally, I think he sensed the vulnerability of the patient, the anxiety of the family members, and the importance of being present as a reminder they were not alone.  I’m not sure where he learned this skill.  But I know where I did.

Visiting church members in the hospital was something he enjoyed, which may seem strange to some of my readers.

He could walk into a room, sense the emotional and spiritual temperature of the room, and with a calm Southern drawl start a conversation that put the patient or family member at ease.  He seemed to  know intuitively how to bring peace into chaos and leave the situation better than he found it.

As a senior pastor of mostly large, suburban congregations, he also taught me how he got his exercise for the day by always taking the stairs at the hospital, regardless what floor the patient was on.  Tenth floor?  No problem, I could hardly keep up the few times I went with him as he took two steps at a time.  Getting to a gym was hard for him with night meetings and being on constant call to his parishioners.  So, he just worked it into his daily routine.  He even parked his car in the corner of the parking lot so that he could walk farther.  I thought he was crazy at the time.

Early in my career, I was the Minister of Pastoral Care in a similar size church in Louisville, KY.  We were talking on the phone one day and I asked him why he didn’t ask his associate pastors and other staff members to do all of the hospital visiting so that he could concentrate on other responsibilities.

He said, “Well, Malcolm, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if people know that you genuinely care for them and love them, they will forgive you for other shortcomings in your ministry.  This is one of the ways I can do that.”  He laughed and added, “And believe you me, I have plenty of other shortcomings.”

I am grinning as I write this because I am now the Director of Pastoral Care in one of the hospitals he often visited.  I can sometimes hear his voice in my own phrases or inflections as I visit and pray for a patient in the hospital.

I think of him when I take the stairs instead of the elevator and realize that his shoes walked on these same steps.

And I love to walk into chaos, and see if I can leave a little peace.

My father taught me so.


Have you ever been in the hospital, or a family member, and someone made a difference for you?  What did they do?  How did they help?  Would you share how someone has walked into your life when it was in chaos and they somehow gave you peace?

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  1. Sulynn Creswell

    Last August when my husband, Phil, was seriously injured in Mobile, AL, I found myself being the “one responsible” for his care and we were two and half hours away from the closest family and friends. The accident happened on Saturday afternoon, he was taken to a hospital I knew nothing about except for the name; he was being cared for my doctors I did not know – many of whom were young residents.

    I felt so very alone but God provided. His primary nurse’s best friend from high school was our children’s middle school science teacher. A woman I knew from Judson connections, who was a pediatrician in Mobile, responded to an email with a phone call…”I don’t know the doctors who are caring for Phil but my husband does – he is an emergency room physician at USA. He says the doctors are great!”

    On Tuesday morning, the door opened, a friend and her husband, who live in Fairhope but have a weekend home in Camden, stepped into the room. I remember the absolute relief that swept over me because finally there was someone there to put their arms around me and tell me we were going to be alright and they were there for us. Those friends took dirty laundry home and washed it for me. Over and over, friends and friends of friends, appeared in the hospital, called, sent cards, emails and Face Book messages, and then there were the ones at home taking care of our children and PRAYING, PRAYING and PRAYING. I have learned through this experience that there is not an act of love too small. When God lays on your heart to make that call, send that note, show up with a casserole, do laudry, run an errand … DO IT! God will bless your efforts abundantly and your ministry will NEVER be forgotten!

    Malcolm, never ever doubt that the work you and your staff are doing there at UAB is not God ordained and very much appreciated by patients and their families. They may not take the time to say thank you in the time of their crisis but believe me months later they have not forgotten how God used you in their lives.

  2. Malcolm

    Sulynn, your story is inspiring and amazing. Thank you for taking the time to share it with me and all of my readers.

    Different people step into our lives in critical times and I loved reading about some of the ones who did for you and your husband.

    I will share your last paragraph with my staff chaplain team to give them encouragement as well.

    Peace and healing to you and your family.

  3. Cynthia Webster


    I have been told and I have read that people come into your life for a reason or a season. Whichever one it is for you and I to have met, I would I like to say that it has been most rewarding. You came into my life in a different manner than visiting me in the hospital while I am sick, but it has been during a time in my life while there have been trials and tribulations. I want to thank you personally for being here for me no matter how long it may last. Thank you for encouraging me to take care of myself and never give up, but to always depend on God for his grace and mercy will never fail me.


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