We returned early this afternoon from our mini vacation. It was almost 2:00 when we got home. By 4:00 I was at the hospital, visiting a member who has been in the hospital for nearly a week now. After visiting a little, we had the Lord’s Supper and focused our attention on Jesus and his promises. On my way out of the hospital I was walking through the parking lot past the emergency entrance and I noticed a familiar van in one of the spots. I certainly don’t know what kind of vehicles all my members drive, but I didn’t figure there were too many blue Ford Windstars with a handicapped sticker, motorized scooter lift, and “radio operator” license plates. So I turned around and walked back in. I didn’t even know whom to ask for at the information desk, but I took a chance, and found that Mr. Rourke was in the emergency room. I found him and his wife, who had apparently just gotten into a curtain area. Last week I walked right into the ICU; today the emergency room—no questions asked. I’ll write more about being able to do that later.
But what struck me today was just what a privilege it is to be able to be there at those moments in people’s lives. On the one hand, they are moments of little pride or joy. No one wants to be there. The masks of dignity that we usually wear don’t match well with a hospital gown open in the back and your hair all messed up from a night of often-interupted sleep in an uncomfortable bed. You go there and the first time you get to hear all the details of the problem that brought them there. Hopefully, on subsequent visits you might hear of improvement, but a few days in the hospital almost always set you back, and oftentimes you don’t come out without some long-term affect, some scar, some issue that won’t go away quickly or easily. Oh, there are exceptions, but in general, hospitals aren’t evidence that life is improving. Rather, they are evidence that our bodies and lives are full of the effects of sin and that they are heading in one general direction: death.
So on the one hand, I don’t want to be there any more than anyone else. Although I would rather visit than be a patient. But it’s not a fun thing. But I am so glad to be able to be there. And on a day like today, there is no place I would have rather been.
For in the hospital room there is a unique opportunity to talk about the Christian life as it really is: a life under the cross. A quick survey of the scene as it first appears makes us think that most things are pretty rotten and that unless you can focus on the good things you still have, or the glimpses of hope the diagnosis brings, well, things aren’t looking too bright.
But that’s not the way things really are for the Christian. It’s a fine thing indeed to find a silver lining or express gratitude for your previous years of health and the limited health you still have. But the silver lining could still go away (or what you thought was the silver lining). What then? What about when nothing goes your way? What about when “every earthly prop gives way”?
Ahh, then (if not before) we realize that Jesus’ Word and promise is really the only thing that I have going for me—always. And can you imagine the peace of mind that comes to someone when they begin to understand and believe that? Not that they didn’t know it before, but perhaps they’ve never had to really grasp it before. And now they do. And I find it to be one of my greatest joys to be able to point people to these concrete and sure truths.
Hospital visits are probably valuable all by themselves just because you are there. I suspect that it was valuable just to be there with the man on day seven in the hospital or the couple in the emergency room. Just to be there. But I pray that what I bring with me is of even greater value to them. I bring with me a promise of one who is with them always. Even when I leave. Even if everything and everyone else leaves them.
I keep these and all such others in my prayers this night. But they aren’t alone. And I give thanks that I am privileged to tell them that.