Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life in the Emergency Room

I guess I spend a lot more time in emergency rooms than most people do. I remember three or four frantic trips to the ER with our kids when they were small, for slings or shots or stitches. We've been very fortunate and blessed with relative safety and good health.

I remember as a boy my family lived across the street from St. Francis Catholic Hospital in Maryville, Missouri. My brothers and I made regular trips across the street to get patched up from injuries we had usually inflicted on each other. My parents didn't allow us to have any toy guns, and that was a big mistake. We made our own weapons, going after each other with tree limb guns and tuna can grenades, with predictable results. I remember one time when we were playing army, one of the neighbor kids hit me in the shoulder with a garden hoe. Mom and Dad took me across the street where the good Sisters knew all the Hill boys pretty well. I remember the doctor bandaging my shoulder while I asked him, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm putting this on here so that when you take a drink of water, you won't leak." Well, that made sense to me. I was perfectly satisfied with that in depth, medical explanation.

But these days, my frequent trips to the emergency rooms are different. You can bet that when a pastor is called to the ER, it is no small thing, no little boo-boo that just needs a band aid or an aspirin. Someone is in crisis, someone is hurting, suddenly a big question mark is looming over someone's life. Without any warning or preparation, life has become unmanageable, unbearable for someone. I think that's why waiting in the ER is so torturous and frustrating. The rug has been yanked out from under somebody's life. Pain is screaming for attention. Fear is creeping up, clutching at our throats, and faith seems weak and frail.

I'm impressed by the special people who work in emergency rooms. To do what they do, to respond to unthinkable situations, to deal with all kinds of people, almost all of them at their worst, requires a person with a remarkable mix of grace and skill, toughness and tenderness. God bless them all.

When I am called to the ER, I want to bring support and empathy and encouragement. I try to offer whatever practical help might be needed. I can hug and hold and pray. But my main task in the ER is this - just to point out Who else is in that examination room. I know He's there, because I felt His presence in my car, across the parking lot, and walking down the hall. Now He moves silently behind the curtain, comes to each bedside, unseen, yet unmistakably real. And with His touch fear heads for the door and peace settles down like a warm blanket. Pain stops its screaming at the sight of His scars, and faith gets back on its feet again. Even death bows low to the One who is Life. Christ has come, powerfully and personally, and I marvel at His transforming touch.

A friend said to me the other day, "I couldn't handle all that hospital stuff. I don't know how you pastors do it." He doesn't know. He doesn't understand what an awesome privilege we have. Just to watch in wonder - people at their worst, Jesus at His best. 

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