Reflections from an ER Visit
This past weekend my wife had an acute migraine that led to dehydration. As a nursing mom, we felt we needed to go to the ER. Here were a few things I took away from the experience and some application to ministry.
I didn’t hear the screams, but my wife did as she lay on her stretcher in the hallway. The sound of people suffering extreme pain is uniquely haunting. It happens day and night at the ER, but we don’t hear it. I missed it myself as I was driving around the parking lot trying to soothe a fussy baby with the motion of the vehicle. When the baby’s hunger could no longer be staved I came in to visit my wife in the hallway. I saw police and armed guards at every entrance and exit, ready to make arrests, keep the peace and protect victims of violence. When I went to get my wife ice chips I saw a chiseled man with a ripped shirt stained with blood. He stood with his head hanging down and his girlfriend at his side. I heard the “trauma” code and saw a young woman wheeled in, immobilized on a stretcher. Would her parents see her before she died? Would she live? I won’t know. I’m sheltered from her life, her sufferings, just as I am concerning the multitudes there day and night.
I visit the hospital frequently. I’m there at the ER and routinely on every floor and room at the hospital, including hospice. I’m no stranger to seeing those I love suffering in hospital beds. I pray. I read scripture. I hold hands. Sometimes we sing hymns together. Most times I cry, either there in prayer or in my car afterwards. I grieve with joy and hope over the sufferings of those I love. The kind of grief I experienced this night was different. This was grieving over strangers and over the enormity of the need that I saw. Even knowing they would receive (by international standards) some of the finest care, I felt that panicked, despairing, kind of feeling I read in the crowds bringing their sick to Jesus. Only, this time, there was no roof to cut and there seemed to be no flesh-and-blood healing Savior at the bottom. Most significantly, this time, there seemed to be no Savior at the paralytic’s bed side saying, “my son, your sins are forgiven.” These seemed to me to be sheep without a shepherd, and, as a shepherd underneath the great shepherd, it grieved my heart.
Yes, I’m thankful we got in and out in relatively quick time. I’m thankful for God’s common grace in using medicines and physicians to do His healing work. I also found myself increasingly thankful for those who serve as civil servants, EMTs, nurses and doctors. I’m thankful somebody, somewhere along the line, threw away the garbage advice of “do what you love” and decided to do something needed. Maybe they do “love” their jobs, but I’m thankful so many work jobs others might deem “too much,” “high-risk,” or simply “not gratifying.” I’m also thankful for the chaplains at the hospital, including the head of the program who is an ordained teaching elder in the PCA. There are shepherds there in the darkness at 12:30am on a Saturday night while the rest of us are sleeping.
I’m fired up.
I’m fired up for the way we do worship at EPC. We aim for a joyful seriousness, or, as Piper puts it, gravity and gladness. It’s that sort of worship, embodied in the psalms, which truly helps the broken to worship the living God. Psalms 22 and 88 could’ve been written from an ER stretcher. They hold out “ER-sized” worship, if you will. I couldn’t imagine going from the world of blood-stained shirts, screams, tears and death to some sort of happy-clappy-sappy worship the next day. I’m thankful I went to EPC.
I’m fired up to see our church continue to reach up and out. That blood-stained man with his head in his hands needs to hear about the blood-stained cross. I know most of my neighbors, so I know he’s not on my street. Is he on yours? Would you know? Will you go to him? Will you speak to him? Will you invite him?
I’m thankful that it’s not just our worship service that is big enough for this man. In Christianity Explored this man has a place to go where his pain and doubt can have a voice, where his questions can be answered, and where his Savior will be presented. I’m more passionate than ever for this course that runs Sept-May at EPC. All that remains is for us to get started in knowing those around us, speaking truth in love, and inviting them to join us.
The day is coming when the world will be rent into those who suffer eternally and those who never know suffering again. I’m going to a place where my Savior promises to wipe away all tears from all faces, and I’m committed to bringing as many as possible with me. Join me in prayer, in hospitality, in evangelism, in worship, and let’s be the church God has called us to be.