Sometimes, when I pray next to a hospital bed, I start laughing. Usually, inside my head. Sometimes it creeps into my voice, though, when I know that the other people in the room understand.
Because I often say something like, “God, I ask that you will strengthen her heart and give peace to her mind while she waits.” And even as I say it, I know that the test results everyone is waiting for are neurological or the problem that everyone is watching for the next 24-48 hours is cardiac.
And I laugh at my spiritual punning. Because I will be asking God for healing for her body, but when I ask for strength and peace, I’m not talking about the mass of muscle and the bundle of nerve cells.
I’m asking God to encourage the disheartened.
That’s a phrase that Paul uses in a long list of final words to one of the groups he cared for.
Paul knew that in the middle of uncertainty and physical suffering, people lose heart. Their courage, strong when the adrenaline kicks in, when the task at hand is noble and the goal is glorious, starts to fade. The nitpicking starts. The questions converge. The test results are taking forever.
At those moments, when we look into eyes that are weary and see into a heart that is struggling with next beat, we could scold them. (In fact, we often do.)
But we could take a lesson from the ways weakened physical hearts are strengthened. We could give courage to the disheartened by removing some of the emotional weight they are carrying. We could come alongside, so that there is community. We could listen, so that the fear and frustration and questions which are keeping the heart from beating are drained away. We could clear space for rest and restoration.
And we could change the phrasing of our request to God: “Give me wisdom to know how to help you offer courage to my friend.”