January 21, 2021

Another Look: Always a Neighbor


First posted in September, 2011

A friend of mine told me of an experience he had recently. He was feeling quite sick one day, and so he went to the clinic for what turned out to be an upper respiratory infection. He couldn’t see the regular doctor, who was booked up, so the office staff set him up with another. It turned out that my friend had met this other doc before, whom he described as a kind, gentle man with a positive spirit, enhanced by a comforting lilting Irish accent.

He checked my friend over and made his diagnosis, giving him a prescription along with counsel to rest and so on. As they were talking, he discovered that my friend worked for hospice. Well, the physician told him that his wife happens to be a hospice patient, with end-stage ovarian cancer. It also turns out that my friend had encountered his wife before she got sick, in several care settings. She is a lovely Irish Catholic lady who has devoted her life to visiting the sick and caring for the unfortunate; one of those rare people that just breathes encouragement, comfort, and affirmation into every situation she enters.

The doctor’s halting words made it obvious that he needed to talk. So, the patient found himself extending his stay in the examination room quite a bit past the usual perfunctory exam and wrap-up. After the doc told how his wife was doing, my friend asked about him, how he was coping and getting along.

“Well,” he said, “she’s handling it a lot better than I am. She seems to have accepted things, and I’ve told her that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to be pissed off.” He chuckled at the same time a tear slipped down his reddened cheek. That was a surprisingly revealing, personal comment for a physician to make to a patient. My friend said he felt honored that the doctor was comfortable enough to share it with him.

After talking for a while more, they parted and my friend asked him to give his dear wife a greeting, wishing both of them help and blessings from God. The physician for his part indicated that it had been good to talk. Little had this suffering friend of mine expected that a trip to the doctor for his needs would turn into an opportunity to minister to the doctor for his needs.

We may punch in and out of work. We may leave the worship service, having offered our praise and thanksgiving.  We may put appointments on our calendars and make our To-Do lists and plan our agendas, checking things off as we complete them. But as human beings, we are never “off the clock.” All around us people are going through situations few imagine or understand. God may lead you or me, at any time, to help someone. Every road we walk leads to Jericho.

It is always time to listen to and love your neighbor.


  1. God appointments ! Love it!

  2. “The primary confession of the Christian before the world is the deed which interprets itself.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  3. Those in need are all around us. In every crook and nanny.

    We certainly ought to.

    And once in a while we might even do so.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Crook and Nanny” — now that’s a groaner worthy of the Book of Amos in the original Hebrew.

  4. Clay Knick says

    Even better the second time around, Mike. Thanks.

  5. I have a neighbor who lives down the street. He’s a few years older than me and we have talked a few times over the years – nice guy. His daughter, at one time was our baby sitter (the kids loved her) and she has since graduated from college and now is married herself. Abut five years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, I believe leukemia. I had heard over the years about the diagnosis, and about a year ago that things were looking worse. About two weeks ago we heard that he was now in hospice care.

    I wanted to go over and see him, but in reality I don’t really know him and I had no idea what condition he would be in. Then this past weekend I saw him out, surrounded by his family as he made his way a little ways up the street and then back to his house. I walked over to him, realizing that it may be the last time I would see him. He had aged considerably, looked weak, and I didn’t want to hold him up long because I knew he was probably exhausted. We exchanged the usual small talk, and I mentioned how it must feel good to be outside, something different than being in the house. We both knew that there was no getting better, that he was going to die in the very near term. But it was good to see him, with his family all around him, a little herd of people, surrounded by love. In some way I wanted him to know that even in dying, he was still a person, a person that mattered. I am terrible with this sort of thing… I mean… what do you say… but then maybe you just keep it normal and I just told him I had been thinking about him.

    As he walked away with his family there was a great sadness inside me, but also something else because I got to talk to him before I would see him again at the funeral home. sigh….

    • You said, “I mean… what do you say”

      It’s not about what you say. It’s about being there in person to offer the person support. Or just mail them a “I am thinking of you” card once every few months.

      You can also tell the person, “How do you want me to support you? I am not sure, do you want me to listen to you talk about your cancer, or would you prefer it if we only discuss politics, movies, and sports and avoid all cancer talk?” -Let him tell you what he wants.

      Christians do the same thing with death and grief. Rather than supporting the person who is in grief (or dying of a disease), they sit there and go,

      ‘Oh golly, I will not visit or send a card or anything, because that person’s grief makes me feel so awkward and uncomfortable, so I will either ignore the grieving person or change the topic if they try to talk about their dead family member.”

      A lot of times, Christians (and Non Christians too) end up totally ignoring the person who is in mourning (or who is sick), when that is when that person need them the most!

      This sort of selfishness drives me nuts. I went through if after my loved one died. People avoided me because grief makes them feel uneasy, or they were too selfish to spare an hour a month to let me speak to them on the phone about it and cry.

      It’s always a cop out to say, “I don’t know what to say or do, so I will just never call or visit.”

      That really hurts the person who is in emotional pain due to death or whatever they are going through. Doing something is better than nothing.

      They need you to listen to them talk about their emotional pain, they are not looking for you to say something clever and witty that will erase their pain.

      If you google stuff like, “How to help a friend in grief,” or “what not to say to a grieving person” (and I would imagine there are similar pages like “how to help a friend who is dying from cancer”) you will find many pages telling you exactly how you can help a hurting / sick friend. The resources are out there.

      There is just no excuse for avoiding or ignoring a sick/ dying/ grieving friend, unless they specifically asked to be left alone.

      • This is an important comment, Daisy, and expresses some of my own reservations about the new trend toward social justice ministries. Anyone who has read this blog consistently knows that I’m not big on programs. Not that I think organized efforts are unimportant, but they are not as foundational as being people of love. That may or may not have anything to do with being involved in a program to help others. It does have everything to do with how I treat the neighbor right in front of me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Oh golly, I will not visit or send a card or anything, because that person’s grief makes me feel so awkward and uncomfortable, so I will either ignore the grieving person or change the topic if they try to talk about their dead family member.”

        Sometimes it isn’t “Selfishness”, Daisy. It’s being completely overwhelmed. I’ve been there; it’s like my brain just seizes up like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet getting conflicted and just standing there arcing.

        And it’s not “feeling awkward and uncomfortable”, it’s FEAR. Fear of messing up, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. So you just stand there like Robby the Robot with electric arcs zapping all over your head. Because if you do nothing, you can’t catch hell for doing it wrong.

  6. Great post Mike. I have to admit I often get so focused on the task at hand I can miss what else might be going on. My prayer is always that I can be the right person at the right place at the right time.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Jerry Goodman says

    I love this post . . .for the simple reason we might not be “tuned in” to the Spirit of God with the expectations that God will give us a surprise love story. With one who may not understand God yet in their reality. We in our men’s Bible study group is going through a series called “WorkingPlace Grace” We spend a good portion of our time in the workplace and the market place more than the church-place. This gives us opportunity to live a demonstration of Christ in us to have such a visitation as posted here. Help us Lord to see those everyday appointments.

  8. Awesome post. Thanks for re-sharing it!!!

    I had a moment like that a few weeks back, asking a teacher at my daughter’s school how things were going. I made a comment like, “You’re always standing there, smile on your face…”

    She said, “Truth be known, I want to crawl over in that corner and cry.” And she proceeded to break down and share what was going on. I also felt honored she felt comfortable enough to let herself go in front of me. And yes, I certainly believed that to be a God appointment.

  9. It is always time to listen to and love your neighbor.

    If only more Christians actually did this, I might not be waffling in the faith and tempted into agnosticism as I have been the last couple of years.

    (For an explanation of why I say that, please see my post in the Oct 10, 2013 thread on Internet Monk, “Let’s Discuss: Church and Social Justice Ministries”, though that post has not been published as I type this; it’s still sitting in moderation).

    When I was a full on Christian, I tried, by the way. I would listen to friends who were hurting (listen without judging or offering advice), I’d mail them cards to let them know I was thinking of them, etc. I’ve not met many people who would do this for me, including regular church going Christians who volunteer at soup kitchens…

  10. As on the spectrum, leave them alone entirely or ask what can be done, I would prefer the asking.

    I guess this would be an anecdote, but it definitely is on point. I moved near my boyfriend, Chris, who lived with his grandmother, Nanny. I would stay with them on weekends. At most times, no one would visit, though sometimes a nephew, who lived next door, would call, possibly stop in. Nanny died in 2011; a number of people came to the house once they heard (then left), came to the viewing, and came to the funeral and brought food for afterwards (then left). I stayed. I had to go up to NY to visit family and take care of my car; I was gone for two weeks. Nobody visited Chris. When I came back, nobody visited either. It has been two years and no family members have visited – even though some of them said that they would.

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