I spent Wednesday afternoon having an outpatient medical procedure at a local hospital. The older I get, the more time I seem to spend in doctors’ offices and enduring tests and “procedures.” Never willing to waste time waiting, I at least try to pray during my alone moments.
I’m also fond of chatting up and observing people. That can provide flashes of grace.
For instance, one nurse told me I resemble the “guy in charge of the gladiators in the movie Gladiator. Not Russell Crowe. That other guy. I can’t remember his name. Oh, well, just tell your wife someone said you look like a movie star!”
(Tangent: I looked it up. She was talking about Oliver Reed, who sported a gray goatee as Proximo in that movie and uttered one of my favorite movie lines: “Those giraffes you sold me, they won’t mate. They just walk around, eating, and not mating. You sold me … queer giraffes. I want my money back.” I also sport a gray goatee. Reed was a bit overweight and died during filming. I wish she would have said I look like Russell Crowe … )
Anyway, Wednesday’s more memorable “moment-in-waiting” came while I was laying on a bed in expectation of being wheeled into the procedure room. The curtain in the room was opened, which gave me clear view of a hallway. I watched an older man, probably in his early-to-mid 70s, as he was preparing another room like mine for the next patient. I saw him change the pillowcase, then strip and remake the bed.
I was mesmerized watching him wash the bed.
He used disinfecting wipes. He deliberately cleaned the mattress – not just giving it a once-over, but intentionally wiping every inch, top and side. He moved over the metal frame of the bed – again, every inch of metal was touched by the wet sheet in his hand. There was a metal pole near the back of the bed which was used to hang an IV bag or other necessary solutions; he cleaned that pole up and down, including the curve at the top. There was no aspect of that bed that the gentleman didn’t wipe down.
Clearly, at some point in his life he had learned the cliché “any job worth doing is worth doing well” was the right way to perform a task. It was more than his work ethic that captivated me, though. He wasn’t slow. Rather, he moved with a purpose, a quiet motivation that reflected a desire. While he was wrapping up, a nurse walked by him and said, “Thank you very much.”
It looked like a prayer. If it wasn’t specifically a prayer for that man, it became one for me. I considered how much some of my great heroes of faith would agree.
Brother Lawrence was a lay brother who lived in a French Carmelite monastery in the 17th century. He worked primarily in the kitchen and for a while repairing sandals. Yet despite that relatively low station and his lack of education, he provided treasured spiritual direction and wisdom to many. In a book of his thoughts complied after his death, Brother Lawrence said: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
And from St. Therese de Lisieux: “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
That night, I was doing my nightly reading of Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional “My Utmost For His Highest.” I don’t think every coincidence actually is random, but instead some are engineered by God to teach us something. If he hadn’t gotten my full attention that afternoon watching a man wash a hospital bed, he hammered his point home through Chambers.
“Jesus Christ … said that in His kingdom, the greatest one would be the servant of all. The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet – that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God. … Paul focused his life on Jesus Christ’s idea of a New Testament saint, that is not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and pour-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.”
So often, we spend our prayer time asking God to show us what to do. And we’re probably genuine in that desire. But being human beings, we understandably respond out of a penchant for comfort and personal happiness. Jesus told that one young man to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow him. The young man couldn’t do it; the rest of us can’t, either.
“How will I live?” we say. “How will I pay my bills? What will people think if I leave this job and rely totally on God?”
God doesn’t always intend for us to become financially destitute. He gave us skills and talents, allowed us to gain education and training, and often put us into places where self-less service is possible. The reward shouldn’t come from the comfort provided by a job, though, or from glory or honor. Rather, it comes from doing everything, great or small, as an offering of praise to God.
After the anesthesia wore off following my procedure at the hospital, the nurse who thought I looked like a movie star asked if I thought I could walk out on my own. I thought I could. “Go ahead and take the ride,” she said. “You might as well.”
In moments, the man who had cleaned the bed approached me with a wheelchair. I sat down, and he pushed me through the maze of halls to the front doors. He waited with me while Donna went for the car.
“Is this a volunteer job for you?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I retired a few years ago,” he said. “This gets me out of the house now and then, gives me something to do. This place always is looking for volunteers. They said I could work at the front desk, but that was just sitting. I wanted to work. I’ll tell you something: All the people here really appreciate it.”
That include patients who are looking for time with God.