Maybe you’ve heard the old joke about a man who resisted his wife’s urging to get out of bed for Sunday church services.
“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.”
He doesn’t move.
“Second,” she says in a pious whisper, “God wants you to go to church.”
“Finally,” she lets loose with the voice of a drill sergeant, “you’re the pastor, and the congregation is expecting a sermon!”
As a hospital chaplain, I can relate sometimes. It happened just last month as I lay in bed recalling several patients I had visited the previous week.
I thought about the nice grandmother diagnosed with a painful bone cancer. Across the hall from her was a mother who’d inexplicably died before her 12-year old daughter could come for a visit. Then I thought of the family of the college student who’d mysteriously drowned alone in a pool.
They were all imprinted in my mind, as I lay motionless, suffering from what felt like a very cluttered soul.
Like the pastor in the joke, I started asking God for one good reason I should go to work: “What do I have to offer these patients today? And who am I to assure their families that You are present and in control?”
It’s amazing how self-centered one becomes under a warm down comforter on a crisp fall morning. It’s amazing how those sheets can envelop one’s world.
The truth is that my world had already become pretty enveloping. As of late, I had become an undercover worrier. Nothing seemed good enough — not my writing, not my house next to the barking dogs, not my kids, not even the cafeteria food.
It had become all about me as I sang several choruses of, “Me, my, mine, me.”
Then I heard from God.
Not in the way televangelists hear from God; I’ve never heard God tell me to build television networks or prayer towers, but I do experience a guiding presence from time to time.
I sensed God telling me: “No wonder you feel inadequate. Guess what? You are inadequate. However, I’m not.”
“Now,” said this voice or presence, “shake yourself out of this funk and ask me to guide you to someone besides yourself.”
“OK, God,” I prayed, “guide me to someone I can support through their troubled day. Take me beside those who are feeling 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 when we show a willingness to become the process of healing for another.
At that point, I felt a renewed awakening. So, I rolled over and greeted my second-grade teacher wife with a kiss. “Time to get up, sweetie.”
“Give me three good reasons,” she said, as she turned to hit the snooze button one more time.