I was recently asked what guidelines we used in selecting Christian literature that was suitable for hospital patients. My ideas have been shaped by Christian patients who told us what they liked or had found helpful. We also knew what literature patients and families had selected themselves, and there was a high degree of agreement. It was one of those situations where I had to give words to implicitly held ideas.
The most commonly requested and chosen Christian literature are booklets containing a single Gospel, New Testaments containing Psalms and Proverbs, and complete Bibles. Many people take pocket copies with small print, but many others request large or giant print or easy English translations. There is also a need for a simple handbook to the Bible to assist new Bible readers.
Begin where the person is, not where we would like them to be – working from the real, not the ideal.
In addition, to Bibles, many patients choose other literature, and based on the patients’ selections, below are some considerations we attend to when selecting printed material for patients. A further crucial concern is that illness affects people’s ability to concentrate and form new abstract concepts but often opens people to deeper affective and emotional perspectives on realities.
Literature that speaks to patients and their families:
- Places them in conversation with God through thoughtful words – allows them to notice, wonder and discover things about the triune God.
- Begins where the person is, not where we would like them to be – working from the real, not the ideal.
- Uses easy English, good sized font and pictures or illustrations designed for adults rather than teens or children.
- Holds to Christian/scriptural theological perspectives that are agreed upon by most denominations.
- Uses the first and second person I-Thou rather than third-person and addresses the reader as you rather than them, they, this person or that.
- When speaking about God, talks to God, or of God, as if he is standing right next to a person longing that they might come to him, rather than distantly about God.
- Because of the heightened affective state around illness, uses the psalms, prayers, Christian poetry, and metaphorical language help communicate directly into the soul in this affective space.
- Uses gentle and gracious language that can accommodate the depth of suffering, helplessness, meaninglessness, pain and angst of a severe illness, leaving a door open for God’s transforming life in the situation.
- Avoids offering answers without hearing the questions – this is particularly the danger with evangelist tracts – they are written for a general audience. They are not designed to attend to the specific needs of the other, attune to their situation and accompany them on their journey through suffering and death.
- Seeks to build up, not to tear down – connect people to God’s love rather than trying to convince them of their sinfulness and or for forgiveness. Offers of God’s forgiveness make little sense if someone has no concept of the triune God, and this requires a scaffold to build between a person’s understanding and the obstacle between them and knowing God, which is highly individual.
- Locate sin and redemption within the broader category of God’s good but broken creation.
- In Christ, there is forgiveness that takes sin as far away as the east is from the west.
- Bears witness to the faithful presence of God and his desire that all who are heavily laden might come to him.