Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Three years ago, I had an experience that was more valuable in learning about pastoral care than any seminary class in pastoral care I attended. It was winter and I’d already had two lingering colds that went into my chest, so I was coughing a lot. I’d been to the doctor and had gone through a prescription of antibiotics for each event. Still the cough wasn’t going away. So I made another appointment. I described my symptoms to the assisting nurse, who wrote them down and put them on my chart and slipped them in the file holder on the outside of the door.
Apparently I said some key words that triggered a concern because the nurse practitioner on duty came in and asked me more questions, she said, “I think we need to run an EKG on you.” Which they did, and I waited for the results. A few minutes later, she walked in, handed me two little white pills, nitroglycerin tablets, and said, “Put these under your tongue and go straight to the emergency room at Western Baptist Heart Center. There’s a slight abnormality in your EKG, so we don’t want to take any chances.” This was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
So Barb drove me to Paducah, and for twenty-five miles, we got to worry about all the possibilities of what this event could bring…what would we do? Some things were spoken out loud. Other things raced through our heads and were left unsaid.
The doctor’s office had called ahead, so the ER was expecting me. I got right in – no waiting – at least, until I was in a room and they started drawing blood and doing another EKG. Then we waited.
As people walked in and out, these were some of my thoughts: “Let me out of here. I don’t want to deal with this. I’m not as weak or feeble as it might look.” I felt helpless lying in that bed. I felt like people were looking at me like I was fragile, or pathetic, or asking themselves what I did to get myself in this condition? We tend to think we need to appear strong. And if you’re not strong – well, we’ve been taught that only the strong survive.
This is a survival of the fittest kind of world. There I was in that ER room, I was feeling vulnerable and weak and not in control. And it embarrassed me. I didn’t want anyone to know I was there. I didn’t want the prayer chain started so everyone would know that I was “vincible”…that I had any weaknesses. It was an image thing.
I was in the ER, but this time “I” was in the bed and not in the chair as the one who was strong and in control. That’s nothing you can read about in a book on pastoral care and understand.
The good news was that my symptoms had nothing to do with my heart; it was simply a reflux type of indigestion response to the antibiotics I’d been taking. I learned a lot by that overall experience, and I probably paid the equivalent of a semester’s tuition for it. But now when I visit anyone in the ER or hospital, I have a different perspective when I sit in the visitor’s chair.
“Okay, so this is what it feels like to be in their shoes, at least for a short distance. Now I have a deeper perspective – not the same, but deeper.”
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. In Aramaic, the literal translation of the word “merciful” means “to get under someone’s skin.” It means to put on and wear the skin of another as if you were that person; to see life from his/her perspective. Another way we say the same thing is, “Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in that person’s shoes.”
I’ve never had to wonder what it’s like not to have health insurance. I’ve never had to worry about losing my job and current insurance for a child with juvenile diabetes, or some other pre-existing condition. I’ve never had a grandchild whose parent’s insurance company refused to cover for health reasons.
Then again, I’ve never been black. I’ve never been female. I’ve never been anything other than Christian. I’ve never lost my home to forest fires, or a tornado or a hurricane. I’ve never had a loved one murdered.
There are a lot of people I can’t judge. I haven’t gotten under their skin. I suppose I’ll be blessed the day I do.
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And by the way, today and tomorrow (June 30-July 1), my ebook – Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther - is selling for 99 cents.