One night I prayed with a dying stranger. This wasn’t the first time I stood alongside someone making a transition from this life to the next. That’s what pastors do. The role of ‘shepherd’ is not limited to those immediately in your care. I doubt I’ll ever get accustomed to it, but being called in the night to attend to the sick or dying is part and parcel of how I serve. Yes, even without an immediate congregation.
But how did this come about?
The night was hot and I was miserably tossing and turning in bed. The noise from the nearby dance or whatever the event was, made my longing for sleep a real torment. I gave the pillow one more vicious slap as if that would make me feel better. Then I started grumbling to myself that all this was my fault. Look at the week I had!
Why did I make myself so tired from speaking every evening from Monday to Thursday in a local congregation, going out of town to visit an elderly relative on Friday, tired and in a stupor Saturday while trying to reflect on the sermon for Sunday? Then I preached on Sunday and by Sunday evening was too mashed-up to even process what I was feeling. By Sunday night, I was feeling truly awful. So here was I tossing and turning, no sleep for the
When the phone rang, I almost didn’t answer it. However, upon answering the call and answering the question as to my whereabouts, I received a request that could not be refused. My friend on the line asked me to get out of bed and meet him at a nearby hospital to pray for his friend. Cutting off any potential objections, he said from what he’s seeing he doubted she’d make it through the night. That got me up and out in a flash. When I got to the hospital, he gave me the basic preliminary information to prepare me as we walked into her room.
Her eyes struck me as I walked in. They spoke volumes.
There was something akin to panic, confusion, and questions in them. She wasn’t ready. She was still alert to the present and unsure what to make of what was happening. I got the impression when our eyes met, that she was trying to come to terms with this moment, and perhaps she understood why I was there. She looked at me, looked at our friend and made sounds as if she wanted to speak. She was still present but could not communicate with us.
This one was a first for me, praying with someone who was still so present and alert to being accompanied in this way, at this point.
I read her comforting Psalms and we sang with her. When we came to the chorus, “Hear my Cry O Lord” she looked at both of us and joined in parts of the song. When I read Psalm 23, she opened her eyes again. Now very calm, she looked at me and completely caught me off guard when her otherwise unmoving hand clutched at my shirt pulling me down to her. I leaned into her pull as she whispered, “God! God!” in what sounded like either a plea or a revelation. Then she relaxed into a doze.
So I prayed for her, entrusting her into God’s keeping, read some more; then as we sang “In His Presence, There is Fullness of Joy” she moved her lips for a while as if singing with us. She was still calm even as her breathing grew more shallow, and she stayed that way until her family arrived. Of course, when they did, they were intent on waking her up, hopeful she might recognize they were there. Did she? We will never know but I understood their desperation and that unwillingness to let her go. They were not ready. They were confused. They had questions…
They needed this moment with her. So we left them alone. As I left, I prayed silently that they too might find their way through grief holding the hands of the same God who held her hand and helped her cross over to the other side while we sang, “In His Presence…”
And I thank her.
In seeking to answer the questions in her eyes, to give assurance amidst her confusion I too was blessed. She, through our mutual friend, gave me the privilege to stand on these shores watching her row to the other side. I experienced no doubt or uncertainty about the One who was with us in that room. There with that stranger, I stood on the banks of certainty, sent her on and commended her to our God’s merciful keeping.
Walk good Sister! And may your rest be peaceful.