In her poem “Pardon” Jane Kenyon writes:
A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.
One day during a particularly rough stretch of ministry, I became tired of being stouthearted, so I grabbed the keys off my desk and drove to a nursing home around the corner from our church office. I didn’t know anyone there. I just knew that I was, as Kenyon said, tired beyond measure and figured the best way to reconnect to my soul was to serve others. I walked into the foyer and a nurse asked, “Family?”
“No,” I said, “discouraged pastor.” She smiled and said, “Feel free to encourage yourself by visiting anyone you’d like.” I had four hours, so I made it my goal to visit every resident.
As I walked into room 144, I found a man lying motionless on his bed. By the bedsores on his arms and legs, I could tell he had been in that position for a very long time. I sat down and said, “My name is Brian, and I’m a pastor in the area. I wanted to come by to keep you company and to see if there is anything you’d like me to pray for.” No response. His eyes didn’t even move. I wondered if he could even hear me. I wondered if his mind was so far gone that I was wasting my time. I didn’t know what else to do, so I gently placed my hand in his and prayed. I had no passion or intensity; I just forced myself to do it.
I prayed that he would feel God’s presence in his heart, even though I wasn’t feeling it myself. I prayed that his time left here on earth would be full of love. I prayed that he would come to know the love of Jesus before he left this life. I prayed all kinds of things that I wished were true for me, but weren’t. Then as I finished and pulled my hand away, the man startled me. He grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let me go. For the first time he looked over at me. I tried to pull my hand away again, but he squeezed it that much harder. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just sat back in my seat and waited. For ten minutes we sat there, silently staring into each other’s eyes.
To be honest, at first I felt a little odd. I imagined family members walking in behind me wondering who this nut was holding the hand of their loved one. Then I let go, not of his hand, but of my pretense and inhibition. I looked into his eyes and tried to imagine what Jesus saw. Eventually, as I sat there caressing his hand, my new friend gently closed his eyes and fell asleep.
I still look back on those moments in that room with a sense of wonder. I had walked into the room emotionally void, but when I left I took something away with me—a feeling, a reminder, I can’t describe it accurately—but it was tangible. I felt something, as surely as I am breathing. Whatever it was, it was a gift, and that gift gave me the strength I needed to keep going.
Some people will try to discount your emotions when you are going through a dark stretch. You might hear things like, “You can’t trust your emotions. Your faith should be based on fact, not feeling. Don’t place too much stock in your emotions.” You can thank these people for their advice but quickly set it to the side. What I felt that day in that nursing home saved my soul. That man’s gift to me was incalculable. The story may seem small or petty, but when the world has gone gray and the soul has gone numb, small may be all we’ve got.
Are you tired of trying to be stouthearted? Tired beyond measure? Do what I did and find someone this week more tired than you. Go serve that person as Jesus would. You might be surprised what you get in return.
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