Pr. Jaynan Clark
March 3, 2015
I wasn’t there to visit her. She seemed to know that. There she sat in the hallway outside her door in the care facility for the elderly. I was not getting by her that day. She reached out and grabbed my hand, that of a stranger, and pulled me alongside her wheelchair. Time to talk for her time to pray for a pair of hearing ears for me.
She passed by all the necessary parts of a first time conversation name, where she is from, family, what she retired from. I got nothing. As the one down the hall kept saying over and over in the form of a chant, “I just want to go home” this nameless woman gripped my hand and shared the wisdom of age. “Is this what I looked forward to? What I wanted so badly and prayed for?” She proffered how we are never satisfied and always wanting to be in a different “phase” of our life usually “future” but sometimes the past. Kids want to grow up and be on their own but then when they get there they don’t know what they want to do or who they want to do it with and so they try to go home again to avoid the decisions and independence. They want to be grown up until they are supposed to be and then they want to play. The young want to look older and the older want to look young. “We are a mess.”
“I live a quiet life now. It is so quiet it can be deafening many days. I remember wanting peace and quiet wishing that I could retire so that I didn’t have so much to do. I looked forward to just even part of a day that I could just sit and read the paper or watch a good old movie. Always so much laundry and cleaning and schedules and meals to cook, I just got tired of serving everybody and always having something to do and someone to take care of. I wanted ‘me’ time to sit and do nothing or do anything I wanted to do.” “Why did I want this?”
I would guess she was in her 80’s. I never asked and it didn’t matter. Her aloneness was not the problem; she had neighbors all around her and a very helpful caring staff. She had dared to tell a stranger what I’m sure she would never, ever say to her own children she spoke the truth of the human predicament and in so doing she confessed her bondage to original sin. I could see her parked under the tree of life in the garden as she shared her heart wrenching confession with me not there alone but with a multitude of sinners faced with the truth of life and death, love and service, Heaven and the Hell of our own making; knowing no knowledge of good and evil.
“I just wanted time for myself to do nothing and I guess I always pictured Heaven as a place of rest and quiet where that is so but now I hope that isn’t true.” I’m sick of just sitting here being served but not serving not doing anything useful.”
I returned home to my library and had to search for quite some time for the story that this encounter brought to mind. I shared it as best as I could with her from memory.
“A man is vouchsafed a vision of the afterlife. He is first shown a great hall with a long banquet table filled with ambrosial delights. Each diner is equipped with a three-foot-long spoon, but no matter how much they contort their arms, thrusting their elbows into their neighbors’ faces, their utensils are too long to maneuver even a single morsel into their gaping mouths. They sit together, opposite and side by side, in mutual misery. “This,” says the man’s otherworldly guide, “is Hell.” The visitor is then taken to another place and sees an identical banquet table set with the same sumptuous viands and the same impossible silverware. Only here the denizens are well fed, utterly joyous, glowing with health and well-being. “This,” pronounces the host, “is Heaven.” The man is baffled. “What’s the difference?” “In Heaven,” says the guide, pointing delightedly as a person lifts his long-handled spoon across the table to the parted lips of a neighbor, “they feed each other.”” (Caryle Hirschberg and Marc Ian Barasch in Remarkable Recovery. Quoted in, "Spiritual Literacy-Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life." Page 344)
It’s a reminder of Jesus’ own words, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45) We serve God by serving our neighbor each other: friend, family, stranger and foe. Our “toil” is a consequence of our sin as explained in the Genesis story but our service is a gift from God, done by God through the power of the Holy Spirit so we can glimpse His grace in action, taste His banquet as an appetizer, be confronted by His Kingdom now and not yet. You have been freed to serve Him here and now, while there is still time, for your own good and as training for eternity.