If you regularly read this weekly column, you’ll know that I often recount the inspiring stories of the patients I meet in my job as a hospital chaplain.

But today, I want to tell you about a patient I’ve never met and will probably never meet. He’s more than likely dead.

I only know about him at all because Ken, the affable nurse who schedules our hospital surgeries, left me a voicemail saying that a patient was requesting prayer prior to his scheduled surgery the following week.

So, early on the following Monday, I went to the presugery holding area to pray with the patient. The only problem was that he wasn’t there and the surgical staff didn’t seem to have any idea who I was talking about.

The confusion sent me back to Ken.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, “I meant to leave you a follow-up message letting you know that the doctors canceled the surgery. Our patient has pancreatitis, infection of the pancreas.”

“Can’t that be fixed?” I asked.

“Yup, but the pancreatitis was only the symptom of the real problem. The guy has pancreatic cancer. He’s done. The docs told him to stay home and just be comfortable with his family.”

“So there’s no hope?” I asked.

“Nope. It’s so sad because the guy’s only 30. I’ve only seen one guy recover from that, and it was a genuine miracle.”

Then Ken added, “I guess you can always pray for a miracle.”

Taking Ken’s suggestion, I found a quiet place where I made an honest effort to honor the patient’s request for prayer on that particular day.

I must confess that the prayer felt awkward. The patient was a total stranger to me. It reminded me of the times I’d been in church when someone asked for prayer for an obscure or unfamiliar situation, like someone’s Aunt Sally in Timbuktu. Those prayer requests were easy to slough off because they didn’t directly affect me.

My prayerful effort called to mind the words of a song written by Ty Lacy and Steve Siler called “Not Too Far From Here.”

“Somebody’s down to their last dime

Somebody’s running out of time

Not too far from here

Somebody’s got nowhere else to go

Somebody needs a little hope
Not too far from here

“And I may not know their name

But I’m praying just the same

That You’ll use me, Lord

To wipe away the tears
‘Cause somebody’s crying

Not too far from here”

Those lyrics express the truth that we will not always have a front row seat to God’s plans or be able to see the closing act of what God has in mind. That shouldn’t keep us from praying for all those in need of prayer.

So, though I knew nothing about the patient beyond what I’d learned from Ken, I did what he requested. I prayed. I prayed that he would be wrapped in the loving care of his family. I prayed that he’d be able to finish his business on earth. And I prayed for a miracle that wasn’t definable in human terms.

So, the next time you’re feeling helpless or awkward at being asked to pray for someone you don’t know or for a situation that is far removed from you, I hope you’ll find inspiration in the song’s last verse to do so:

“Now I’m letting down my guard

And I’m opening my heart
Help me speak Your love

To every needful ear
Someone is waiting

Not too far from here”

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