Gift or Obligation?

This week I have been making several pastoral visits. As I bounce back and forth from living rooms to hospitals to nursing homes, I have had a variety of experiences. Pastors eventually realize that the pastoral visit is a complex interaction and their own responses are as varied as the people they visit. Although I’m not one to go for hard and fast categories, I have started sensing two different types of visits.

There are visits that I would characterize as “gifts.” Here, I enter the context as an agent of God’s grace. It is sheer gift. I expect nothing. The person I visit, even if the visit is planned, is gracious and sometimes genuinely surprised that their pastor cares enough to simply be there. It is a moment of community and grace. The other visits are “obligations.” These parishioners expect you there because it is what you are supposed to do. It is your obligation as a pastor, and they expect you to fulfill it. True to form, I enter the context of the visit as an agent fulfilling my duty. There is no sense of gift. At some level, I simply expect to have my “made visit” card punched. Predictably, the other person doesn’t respond graciously. Usually, these are the people you cannot visit often enough. I realize that everyone needs God’s grace and I try to model that, yet the dynamics are always different with people who receive life as something they are owed.

How do you and I approach life? Do we approach it as a gift or as something God is obligated to provide us with? Are we owed the great joy and suprising moments of grace we receive? I pray that I will begin to receive life and joy as a gift – sheer grace. It makes a world of difference in pastoral visitation, and I think it makes a profound difference in our lives.

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