It’s 3:30 a.m.
Having difficulty sleeping, I decided I needed to do something productive in hopes I could wind down and get some sleep. I decided to do some “house cleaning” of my hard-drive and get rid of some of useless photos eating up drive space. I came across three photographs I took while I was in the hospital almost two years ago.
Just after Christmas in 2013 I caught some sort of virus leaving me with a severe upper respiratory infection and landing me in the hospital. After triage and being stabilized in the E.R., I was moved to ICU for a few hours for monitoring until a bed was made available. As it turned out the only bed available was on the cancer treatment floor. While I have absolutely no desire to return to that floor, I am grateful for the experience as I learned some things about me I couldn’t learn otherwise.
It was the sounds I heard that week affecting me the most, and in particular the sounds coming from the room across the hallway from me. While I could not see into the room, as the curtain by the bed obstructed my view, I could still hear everything that went on in that room. One evening, the patient in that room evidently got horrible news. She screamed a scream the likes I had never heard before. It wasn’t a scream of physical pain. This was full-blown wailing of anger, fear and sadness in one colossal outflow of emotion. An instant later I heard the crash of something hitting a wall then smashing on the floor, followed by an emphatic, “NO!” After about five minutes of this one-woman riot with family members, doctors and nurses trying to calm her down, she finally gave in to quiet sobbing. That’s when, from my bed across the hall, I quietly joined in her distress and wept.
A rush of fear, despair and nausea overcame me. I have never felt so utterly useless and helpless as I did in the following hours. All I could do in those moments was share her tears and pray for her.
From what I could hear, family members started showing up. Each time someone would arrive another wave of emotion would fill the air. There was a continuum of waves of sadness and sorrowful conversation for the next several hours.
I didn’t know her, had never even seen her, nor had she seen or known me. Nonetheless, I shared her pain if only from a distance. I wanted to reach out to her in some way and asked to see her, but a nurse told me, “That would not be possible as exposure to my condition would put her at greater risk.” Even if I could see her, I wouldn’t know what to say or to do. For a time, I felt like I was in some emotional straight-jacket and couldn’t remove myself from the situation or the emotions I was experiencing.
I was required to walk laps around the nurse’s station to keep moving to prevent my lungs from filling up. I also needed a break from all the sadness emanating from across the hall, so I decided to take a walk. Hanging on the walls of this particular floor were dozens of paintings, poems, drawings and photographs created and donated by patients. A diptych (shown above) in particular captured my attention that night. The drawing on the right portrayed the deep and intense pain that produced the sounds of heartache that echoed through the halls. During that week, each time I passed these two works, the disconcerting sounds of that night returned with great clarity.
After eight days in the hospital, I was released to go home and leave my unseen and unmet fellow patient. I don’t know what ultimately became of her, but I prayed for weeks to come that Jesus would heal both her body and soul, and that she would know G_d’s peace that passes all our understanding. I wish I could have touched her heart in some personal way beyond that of my prayers for her. I asked someone at the nurses station how she was doing, but they wouldn’t offer any information about her condition, leaving me feeling empty and sad. So I prayed James 5:13-15 over her, knowing that G_d’s will will be done, claiming His promise of restoration.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
(James 5:13-15 NASB)
Tonight, while sorting through old photographs, these three photos took me back to that woeful night reminding me of my “friend” across the hall. Those eyes portrayed on canvas truly captured my experience that evening, and caused me to relive those moments and emotions again tonight.
It is truly amazing how G_d wired our species when He created us, in particular how we can connect or relate to another with but a tiny strand of humanity and kinship from a distance. I find peace in knowing that Our Father’s character does not allow Him to break His promise to love, heal, restore and raise us up. These images reminded me of an experience that started with another’s immense pain ending with G_d’s promise. We are commanded to pray. Doing so should ultimately become second nature. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians:
17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 NASB)
When we can’t see or witness the results of our prayers, it is important to remember what Jesus commanded us to do. His most common command is in one form or another “fear not.” The Gospels list over 120 imperatives from Jesus. Of these, 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “not fear” or “have courage” or “take heart” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common commands, to love God and neighbor, appears on only eight occasions. If this quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our prayers, fears and concerns in life quite seriously. During those times when we pray and can’t see the outcome, it is important to remember the one statement Jesus made more than any other is; “Don’t be afraid.”
Often people say, “Oh, it is the least I can do” when asked to pray for someone or something; however, calling upon the Master and Creator of the Universe is likely the MOST one can do.
Come back for Part Four of this series next week. Feel free to comment on this posting and share your experience(s) with prayer.
Be well and be blessed, David