I used to not get what was the big deal about shut-ins. They were always on the prayer list at church and many of them had been there for longer than I could remember. But since they weren't in the hospital, in some seriously ill state, I didn't understand why we needed to keep them in our prayers, at least not week after week. I mean, their condition hadn't changed recently and probably wasn't going to any time soon.
Then I became a temporary shut-in. Today I'm missing my sixth worship service. It gets progressively harder to be away from my church family. I feel more and more removed from regular church life and the lives of our members. And, though I have no evidence to back it up, I feel more and more forgotten. Oh, Russ comes in every week and tells me that they prayed for me and that everyone sends their best but with every day that passes that I don't actually get to be plugged into the people sending these messages, their warm thoughts have less and less meaning.
I try to come up with ways to make my Sunday morning special. I have praise music to listen to and endless podcasts of sermons. But they don't take the place of actual fellowship. The best Sunday I have had so far was when a dear teammate came and sat with me all morning instead of going to church. It was one of the most meaningful gestures I have experienced recently. We didn't do anything special that morning, but it was so nice to have someone with me at a time that I knew everyone else was together.
I think of how much that meant to me and I remember that I have only missed six weeks of church. Six weeks isn't all that much. There are many people on most shut-in lists that have been there for six years! It leaves me wondering what we can do to help our brothers and sisters who can't be with the rest of the body. These days, it's very easy for a shut-in to be able to listen to the worship service from their home. While it is certainly a blessing to have your soul fed in that way, it doesn't take the place of community. Gathering together is what church is supposed to be about, not just transmission of information.
I wish I had answers for how to help shut-ins. My experiences to date have been limited and I have the added blessing of knowing that my situation is only temporary. And in a fledgling church like ours, we don't even have any shut-ins yet (except for me!) But most churches do and my heart goes out to them today whether they are missing their sixth, sixteenth or sixtieth Sunday.