Category Archives: bible reading

No one was holding her hand.

A patient was laying in a hospital bed. The people who can see inside bodies had said that what was inside her body wasn’t good. The people who want to figure out how to make things better had understood that things were only going to get worse.

And so family members and physician, pastors and a friend, were standing in a circle around her bed.

handEveryone was deeply concerned. Everyone was “trying to process”, a phrase we use as if somehow our minds and hearts are machines that can take in phrases like “you likely wouldn’t survive the surgery” and “without it you have days at best” and can produce little bricks called “understanding” and “acceptance” that we can use to build something.

I stood next to her after we had asked God for wisdom because we had none. I looked at all these faces who cared. And I looked down at the patient.

I realized that no one was holding her hand.

I said, “no one is holding her hand.” And I asked her asked if I could hold her right hand.

She nodded weakly. She smiled. “Sometimes people are afraid to touch people who are sick,” she said, offering us an excuse.

She’s right. And touch can be inappropriate. But a person who is dying, who is clinging to breath and exhausted from wrestling with uncertainty and fear, may want a hand to hold.

Before you start holding hands whenever you walk into a hospital room, however, notice something else in that story. I didn’t notice the unheld hand until “After we had asked God for wisdom.”

James tells us to ask for wisdom and believe that we will receive it. We often think that must be about big things, about careers and partners and transcontinental relocations. But sometimes it’s as simple as noticing what we didn’t notice before. Because at that moment, in that room, with that person, holding a hand was the wisest next thing to do.


Saint John of the Mall is available to read, even if we are half-way to Christmas. I’m hearing from friends that it’s even a good Christmas gift (thank you friends). It’s available in paperback and Kindle.


Becoming heart specialists.

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.

ButtonBecause 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.”

The one in front of you.

A friend sent me a note the other day about catching up on reading some posts from September. Here’s the response I started to write:


Thanks for your note.

It’s a reminder to both of us that our invitation is to be responsible for the momentary responses to God and to allow God to put the bigger picture together in meaningful ways.

I went back and read the posts from September. I’d forgotten about them, forgotten about the course that I was teaching at the time, forgotten about Harvey. And I struggle from day to day with when to be original, when to use reruns, when to repurpose other teaching.

In other words, I lack capacity to remember well what has happened and I struggle to make sense of what could be happening moving forward.

I’m guessing that I’m not alone.

At this time of year, there is value in review. I’m spending some time trying to remember the year, the moments, the milestones, the endurances. Some need celebration, some need healing, some need rejoicing, some need repair.

There is value in resolve. I’m spending some time making plans, making preparations.

But there is more value, I think, in presence.

WritingI was talking with another friend yesterday about a hospital he visited recently, in a place where the demands are immense. He said he’d learned that they “care for the patient in front of you.” There are many other patients, many other problems, many other opportunities and threats. But at this moment, this patient, this human, this possible Jesus, is the one to focus on.

I’m not sure what that looks like for you. Here are some possibilities:

Write the post in front of you. Love the one you are with. Fix this meal. Treasure this conversation. Do your best with this client conversation. Treat this person with respect and dignity. Treat this interrupter as a human; perhaps she’s been allowed into your time and space by God to receive the care he’s entrusted to you.

Be at peace.

Pick one

Implement one thing. That’s what my friend Becky wrote about. Pick one book, one process, one tool and implement it.

We read lists all the time, 5 things, 6 ways, 10 best. We read a study and another study and another study. We go to a workshop. We make a new commitment.

And then we change.

I understand. I do it all the time myself. As I review the past year, I see many starts and stops, good ideas and inconsistent implementation.

And so I’m curious about Becky’s idea.

IMG_2149.JPGWhat could happen if we picked one short book of the Bible, like James or Galatians or even Philemon and read it until we began to understand it? We read about the culture. We read about the setting. We read about the characters. We read the letter at least once a week, in different translations, perhaps.

What would happen if we conversed with it the way that I do sometimes? If we asked God what he was thinking. If we imagined a conversation with Paul or James. And then, as we had questions about our understanding, we talked to someone else. We talked to commentaries.

We began to think from the inside of the letter.

And every time we thought about jumping to the next 5 best, or the worst thing in the news, we went back to the letter and asked it for a response.

It would be really hard, I think, to sustain our attention. At first. But then we would learn. We would get further in. We would find it easier to read off paper, for example, and find it harder to walk away.

But that sustained conversation with a book is what took me through Nehemiah a few years ago. It’s what helped me with Saint John of the Mall.

I know it’s hard to choose, at least for some of us. But while we are weighing all the options, we are missing what could happen if we simply picked one, and got started.


A moment of peace.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40.

A few months ago, I met a family in ER. The family had been in an accident that could have been tragic, but wasn’t. However, mom was in one room being checked on, dad was in another, a sister was in another, and the three-year-old boy was scared. Mom was still wearing a collar, so he couldn’t be in her room. His attempts to cling would have been potentially dangerous. So he was with dad, who needed to be examined.

momAnd so this chaplain took the boy from a nurse.  I stood and started the swaying rocking that parents learn with infants and never forget. I started the almost tuneless humming that creates a quiet contrast to sobs.

There was no place for reasoning, there was no place for calm discussion. There was simply the need to hold him.

It took a long time. But he quieted enough to fall asleep. I kept holding him until family reinforcements arrived.

That’s the image at the end of the reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, the portion of Isaiah 40 above. The image of a shepherd caring for sheep,  holding bleating lambs  to his heart. When we distill down the weeks of Advent to single words, the word for this week is PEACE.

And as we think about the story of me holding the little boy, and of the shepherd holding the lamb, I want to point to this truth:

Sometimes God’s peace comes in moments of panic when we are simply embraced by him.

For a 3-year-old, being on a vacation trip, being in an accident, being unable to cling to his parents, being in an ER a panicking time! For an adult, being in the ER while losing his Father can be a panicking time, too. And a breath at a time, with an embrace coming inexplicably inside, or from a person standing near, we often find an unreasonable peace.

Not that removes the cause of the pain, but that sustains us, a breath at a time.