A friend to walk beside us

Craig Dove - Contributing Columnist

Several years ago, while working as a chaplain, I met a woman in the hospital. Barbara was in her sixties, had serious heart problems, and was preparing for open heart surgery.

Although she trusted her doctors, she also knew that her chances of making it through the surgery weren’t as good as she would have liked. The night before her surgery, she asked to talk to the chaplain about her concerns.

This is not unusual: people in the hospital are often facing uncertainty. It is an unfamiliar place that no one wants to be as a patient. There is hope, sometimes even joy, but mostly waiting and worrying about what is to come.

The chaplain’s job is to walk with people in times of crisis and loss. This is something that all of God’s children are called to do. Although we often don’t know the details, everyone is dealing with difficult transitions, grief, and uncertainty, or worried about others going through these things.

All of us are placed in situations where we need to minister to a family member or dear friend walking through a dark time. If this is you, then please keep reading and I hope these lines will offer you a way forward

As I walked to Barbara’s hospital room to hear her concerns, I thought about a story from Jesus’ ministry. He was walking along and the blind beggar Bartimaeus shouted for Jesus to have mercy on him. Jesus heard the man’s cry, and asked him to approach. Bartimaeus probably was not wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane, but I imagine that it was obvious to Jesus and the others present that Bartimaeus is blind.

This particular story came to mind not because of the healing that Jesus did, but because of the question he asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus knew the fellow was blind, and asked what he wanted anyhow. The question itself needed asking, even if the answer seemed obvious.

I didn’t think that I could heal Barbara like Jesus healed Bartimaeus, but I could walk into her hospital room with the same open-ended spirit. Rather than assuming that I knew what her concern was — she was in the hospital, after all — I asked her what worried her the most.

When I opened the door for Barbara to share what was on her mind, she didn’t mention her own, serious, health concerns. She was worried, instead, about the nasty divorce her son was going through, and particularly the custody battle with her grandchildren. She was worried about the people in her life — her child, her grandchildren — whom she had supported and protected, and was worried about them entering a period difficulty she could not prevent.

From my perspective, her personal health was the most obvious problem she was facing, but that wasn’t what was troubling her. She was deeply worried about matters that were going to continue to be troublesome regardless of how her surgery and recovery went.

Through the story of Bartimaeus, the Holy Spirit reminded me not to impose my own assumptions on her. Instead, I made space for her to talk genuinely about the spiritual journey she was on – and the sharing and the prayer that followed were rooted in honesty about what Barbara’s spiritual needs truly were.

This is not an unusual story. Many of you can relate, I’m sure, to the concern about what will happen to your family once you are gone. And more broadly, this is true of all of us: when we come to a difficult point in our journey, we don’t need a spiritual authority to tell us what we need.

We just need a friend to walk beside us.

Jesus understood the importance of letting people speak for themselves.

As you walk through God’s world today, you’ll meet with people who are suffering. The cause of their suffering may seem obvious to you, but take the time to listen. Ask them what they need. Their answers might surprise you- and then you both might be surprised by the healing God provides.

Craig Dove is Staff Chaplain of Ohio Health Hospice.


Craig Dove

Contributing Columnist