There’s an old joke about a woman whose husband overslept for church. She tries to gently wake him, but he is uncooperative.
“Give me three good reasons I should get out of this warm bed,” he demands.
“First,” she says with folded arms, “I’m your wife and you should respect my wishes.”
“Second,” she says whispering piously, “God wants you to go to church.”
“Finally,” she exclaims, “You’re the pastor, and I think the congregation is expecting a sermon!”
Sometimes hospital chaplains have mornings such as these. In fact, I had one this past week. I was lying in bed feeling like that pastor, as I began to recall the patients I had seen the previous week.
I thought about the kid who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his hall mate whose will to fight stage-four cancer seems to be waning. Then my mind went to the patient who had unexplained seizures. The family was having great difficulty dealing with what seems to be their only remedy — removing a part of the child’s brain.
I thought about all of them as I lay there frozen, suffering from what I call a cluttered soul. It’s a feeling that my soul is out of sorts, and I don’t know why.
Like the pastor, I asked God for one good reason to get up. “What do I have to offer these kids? Who was I to assure their parents that God was in control?”
It’s amazing how self-centered one can get from under a warm down comforter on a crisp fall morning. It’s amazing how those sheets can envelop my world.
The truth is my world had become pretty enveloping. As of late, I had been an undercover worrier and it was all about me. Nothing seemed good enough, not my writing, not my house next to the noisy train tracks, not my dog, not my kids — not even the cafeteria food.
I had been singing several choruses of “Me, my, mine, me.”
Then I heard from God.
No, not in the way televangelists hear from God. I’ve never heard God telling me to build television networks or prayer towers, but I do experience a guiding presence from time to time.
And this time, God’s voice was saying, “No wonder you feel inadequate. Guess what? You are. That’s why I’m in control.
“Now,” said this voice or presence, “Why don’t you take the God challenge today?”
I was afraid to ask what that was, but I did.
Then, plain and simple, God laid it out — “Ask me to guide you to someone besides yourself.”
“OK, God” I said, “guide me to someone who also needs a guiding presence. Lead me,” I pleaded, “to someone whose trouble I can help stay. Take me to those who would feel alone.”
As my prayer took shape, the echo of my words was enough to help me hear the message I needed to reaffirm. Namely, “The best way out of yourself is through someone else.”
That is to say, God works best on our problems only through our willingness to be the process of healing to another.
At that point, I felt a renewed awakening and I rolled over and greeted my fourth-grade teacher wife with a kiss. “Time to get up, sweetie.”
“Give me three good reasons,” she said, rolling over to hit the snooze button one more time.
Burkes is a civilian hospital chaplain and an Air Force Guard chaplain. E-mail [email protected] or visit www.thechaplain.net.