High on my "Don't you hate it when" list is taking a wrong turn into the ladies restroom. It usually happens when I'm somewhere new, but when it happens in my own hospital, I have no excuses.
When it happened this week, I suddenly found myself staring at a lady maintenance worker brushing her long hair. Primping in much the same way as my teenage daughter, she was pinning it into the nicest ponytail.
I backed out quickly, mumbling a nervous "sorry," like I had walked in on a drug deal.
I checked the sign on the door: "Men."
OK. I was right, so I leaned back into the room while tapping on the sign to prepare her for this embarrassing news.
But on second glance, my mind began to question what my eyes had reportedly seen.
Was this a woman?
If this wasn't the she room and it wasn't a she in the he room, who was it? Was it a he in the he room?
Confused? So was I, but I knew I needed to stop staring. Ask any guy, and he'll tell you it's not advisable to hold your stare on a guy in a restroom. So, rather than asking my restroom roommate for gender credentials, I moved into a stall to await our separate departure.
In my job, I've got to be on my toes all the time. Going into the wrong restroom is bad enough, but it's really bad to walk into the wrong patient room. It's not a good thing to tell a recovering appendix patient how sorry you are about his terminal cancer. This kind of mistake can put him on the cardiac ward.
One of the most vivid feelings I've ever had of being in the wrong room, was in one where I was not wanted. I had been paged by an ER nurse manager for a family whose mother was undergoing CPR.
"Make it fast, chaplain, we can't save this one."
Speed walking the hall in my "I've-got-someplace-important-to-be" jog, I swung around a corner and into the family room.
"Hello, I'm the hospital chaplain," I said between breaths, "and I'm here to . . ."
As the word "chaplain" shot from my lips, 350 pounds of man distributed over 6 feet 3 inches of body, shot up and pointed his bulky arm toward the door.
"Get out of here! My mamma ain't gonna die! Get out! She ain't dying!"
His mamma certainly was dying, but I wasn't going to argue with his "second opinion." Backing out of the room in the way I had backed out of the restroom, I put my feet in reverse moonwalk and held my palms up saying, "OK, OK."
After executing a perfect about-face, I began double timing down the hall when I heard a second voice call out.
"Chaplain, wait, come back. My brother didn't mean it."
It was the much smaller older brother.
"Please come back!"
This family definitely had a split personality in their preference for a "God guy," but I returned.
The older brother persuaded me to come back, where he then forced an apology out of his "little brother" and persuaded everyone I should pray for their mother to be OK. The big guy had seemed sure I was Andrew, the death angel from" Touched by an Angel." He seemed to feel that by holding me back, he could hold back death.
The other brother, perhaps figuring the opposite, hoped I'd be his good luck charm and keep mom alive. Which could I be? Maybe neither.
Thus set up, I prayed, and as I was amening, the doctor announced what I already knew -- mamma didn't make it. I was dismissed.
In crisis, a lot of people will see God as their only hope of winning the big death lottery, but God can't be any kind of charm -- good or bad. Using God that way is a vain attempt to control God.
In fact, the commandment that forbids it says, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." I know, you thought it meant cussing, which doesn't thrill God either, but he never gave a commandment against it.
The commandment was given because the people of Moses' day thought knowing the name of their God gave them control. Using God's name in vain means that you are demanding God to do something for you just because you know his secret name.
This is called "name-it-claim-it" theology and is the same one the older brother had used in the ER. The younger brother thought the opposite: If you mention God's name, mom's gonna be toast. Both are called vain thinking.
Of course, walking into the wrong restroom is called "no thinking." It can happen to any of us, but in the meantime, I want to encourage you to pay attention to the signs -- the printed kind and the signs that come to us in the form of helpful commandments.