Last night during my round of hospital visits for my church, I visited with a lady who has been hospitalized for 6 weeks with an infection in her heart (a pretty serious problem). She seemed weak and tired, and perhaps in pain. Mostly she seemed emotionally vulnerable. I guess I would be too, facing what she described in her own honest words: "If the antibiotics work, I'll be ok; if they don't work, I won't be ok."
Usually, at the beginning of a hospital visit - unless the patient or the family is very talkative or starts asking about me right away (which does happen, especially with elderly folks), I have to find some starting point for the conversation. (You can only say, 'Your church family is praying for you' so many times, and I probably already say it too much!) Sometimes this is an awkward moment. But then, it's the hospital, of course it's going to be awkward.
I thought I remembered visiting this lady once before, and that she had a young son. So I asked her about him again. Yes, she responded, she has an 11-year-old boy named Jacob. By the look on her face I knew I had hit a soft spot. I asked about how Jacob is doing (he's ok... football is keeping him busy right now). I sat down in the chair next to her bed, continuing with a little more small talk. Then a pause. Maybe because of the seriousness of the situation, or maybe because of the look in her eyes, I decided to go ahead and just be very open. I asked some questions that might be uncomfortable, but she didn't seem to mind answering.
I asked her what is the hardest part about being in the hospital (to leave her husband and son at home alone). I asked her if she felt like God was far away or close to her. After thinking a while, she said that it used to feel like he was far away, but now it felt like he was closer.
When I offered to read scripture, she was very eager for me to read. She had no request, and assured me to go ahead and read whatever I thought of because 'God speaks in that' (I think she meant God speaks through our own thoughts). Since I hadn't taken the time to pick out a scripture ahead of time, like I normally would, I had to pick something on the spot.
It ended up being John 1:1-18, and I do believe it was perfectly guided by God. After listening to me read about the Word becoming flesh, she said 'I have a question... In the Nazarene religion... is it that God and Jesus are different, or that they are one?' I reassured her that even though we refer to the Father and Son, we do believe that they are both God, and that they are one and the same. 'Hm,' she said, 'I've been alive for 42 years, and for 42 years I've thought they were different.'
We also talked a little bit about the concept of the Trinity, I read from Colossians 1 about Jesus being the image of the invisible God, and the conversation became a great opportunity for me to assure her of God's love for her, his awareness of her situation, his deep concern for her, and his willingness to come to earth as a man in order to be close to her. It felt like a practical application of those theology lessons about the transcendence and immanence of God.
When the visit was almost over, I prayed with her and asked God's blessing on her son and her husband, asked for his strength and comfort, for his presence and reassurance of his love, and for complete healing of her body. Sometimes I struggle with praying for healing, but this time I did not hesitate at all. I just laid it all out there for God, and pleaded with him. And when she asked me, 'If you can find time in your busy life, please pray for me' - how could I deny such a request?
This visit is an example of how hospital calls can be difficult and yet I love them so much. I do not know what this woman is going through (I can only imagine it is very hard), I do not know what the final outcome of her physical health will be, I do not know what words to say. But I'm filled with a deep desire that God would move in on her life, that she would sense his presence and know his love and goodness. Somehow I'm able to ask questions without fear, and pray confidently with her. Not confident because I know she will be healed. But confident that the God to whom we pray loves her and is with her no matter what. And when it comes down to it, why not ask him to heal her? There's no sense being cautious in our prayers. I don't believe God is cautious with his love.
For me, it is a privilege to enter into a hospital room, because I know that God is there.