There is Nothing Ordinary About This
Brian Walsh, Advent Pain, Aching Hope
I sit in a sterile hospital room with a dear old saint who will be spending this Christmas where nobody wants to spend Christmas. Outside is a gloriously clear, crisp, winter day full of snow and lights and pre-Christmas goodness. Inside, there are bare, yellowing walls, cracked ceilings, cheap, generic pictures on the wall. We speak of what the doctors say, of what the next steps will be, about what is going on at church, about who has visited and who will be coming. We speak of what her kids are doing for Christmas.
And then, the pastoral turn. The homestretch. “Can I pray for you?” “Yes, of course. Please.” We hold hands. I pray. Because that’s what pastors do when the “pastoral visit” is winding down. That’s the routine. I don’t remember what I prayed. I don’t often know what to pray. I imagine I tried to speak something of peace, of hope, of truth into a bleak context where these things so often seem absent. I imagine my words were fairly predictable. There are only so many ways that you can say, “God, a little goodness, please? If you don’t mind?”
I start to release her hand but she won’t let go (Doesn’t she know the drill? This is the part where I leave!). Her eyes remain closed. And then, in a trembling voice, she begins to pray. “God, I don’t want this pain, and I don’t know why I have to suffer. But if I must bear this burden, please give me the strength. I know that you are with me. I know that you won’t leave me.”
As I listen to her words soaked in sadness and longing, as I look at her tear-stained face, I repent of approaching this visit as “routine”—as something to check off my to-do list, after checking the mail, before heading to the dentist. There is nothing routine about human suffering, nothing ordinary or predictable about standing and straining together in this cavernous gap between what is and what should be.
Christ have mercy…
And, yes, come soon. We say these old words that so many have said before us, and we will keep on saying them, pleading them, demanding them. With trembling lips and wavering voices, with eyes full of tears.