I do my best creative work and writing in the mornings. For me, ideas and content flow effortlessly before noon.
My brain starts to get mushy after lunch, so that’s when I need to get out and do something else. So I use my afternoons are better for visiting folks at home, in the hospital, in nursing homes, for wherever.
There is a part of my brain, however, that suggests that I take a nap after lunch. Sometimes I do that. But I try not to do that when out for a visit. That’s where caffein comes in. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m slamming a tall Pike before a visit to a homebound member.
You see, I’ve been visiting this person for a long time. After a certain number of monthly visits, I’ve heard most of the stories. However, I must listen to them again. And again. And again. That is when active listening becomes difficult, my eyelids begin to feel heavy, and I start to get very, very sleepy…
It’s embarrassing to do that little head jerk when a blink of an eye turns into a few seconds and suddenly your mind yanks you back into reality. To fend that off, I’ll try flexing my biceps and quads, squeezing the arm of the chair, and sitting forward, leaning in to listen more attentively.
Oope. I probably shouldn’t have revealed that. Some who read this may notice the tightening of my arm muscles or me leaning forward with my arms on my knees. You’ll see my hands clench on the chair and you’ll know I’m trying as hard as I can to stay awake.
Here’s the thing. Some of the folks I visit don’t often have someone to talk to. Even the married ones. So they have many things to say. Many things. And they have mastered the art of weaving their story together into one long, continuous sentence that is very hard to interrupt. Those who are good at this can go thirty minutes or more, as each part of their story reminds them of another person or another place that leads to other memories and details that connects to yet further events and recollections from the past.
I listen as best I can. I really do. Someday, I know the tables will be turned and I will be starving for someone to talk to, and I will keep my guest as long as I can by weaving together a complex tapestry of the story of my life to keep them there just a few more minutes.
Occasionally, I get caught with my eyes shut. Uh-oh. That’s embarrassing. It’s just a moment, but I got caught just the same. Graciously, my visit-ees usually say, “You look tired, pastor.” I guess you could make sure you have some coffee on when I come to visit. Just remember it’s got to be strong, black and hopefully not Maxwell House or Folgers.
So, for those who aspire to ministry that includes the care of souls, here my tip number whatever: caffeinate early and often.