We Shall Behold Him. . .
Note: In the Fall of 1997 I began a semester of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training. The training involved classes and actual hospital chaplaincy work which I did for a couple of months before medical issues (detached retinas) forced me to have to drop out. During those two months I learned a lot about myself, felt God’s work within me, and gained a new perspective on God’s calling to live and be in the spirit of Christ in this world. I wrote the following relating an experience I had while doing the chaplaincy work — an experience I will never, ever forget.
WE SHALL BEHOLD HIM. . .
There was a faint “Come in” in response to my light knock on the door. As I entered the room I could see him lying in the bed. He peered through the bed railings as I moved toward him. At his bedside I noticed the stark contrast between his very black skin and the white, though not crisp, sheets. His lunch, barely touched, still sat on the tray table. I softly commented that he certainly didn’t eat much. He somewhat laughed and said, “I couldn’t eat that if I was well.” His laughing revealed the truth, only three misdirected teeth. I chuckled with him as I replied, “No you couldn’t.” We exchanged smiles as we were now both aware of the truth. His not eating had nothing to do with the food. I felt a warm affinity for this little black man with only three teeth.
As I visited with him, I began to notice his condition. His eyes were dark but not clear, with the white being more yellow than white. His almost hairless head sat squarely on fleshless shoulders. What hair he did have was wiry with a hint of gray. It stuck straight up and out from his head as if in defiance of any comb that came near. His gown was all awry uncovering the distinct outline of bone covered over only with tight black skin. The rest of his body was decently covered with the sheet; however the buldge was clear evidence of a swollen stomach. Later as I thought about it, I realized that his body was probably finally giving way to the ravages of the years and a “hard life.” We chatted a bit about how he was feeling — “Better than yesterday!” — where he lived, and his family. We were interrupted by the attendant picking up the lunch tray. She too commented on his not eating. He responded as he did with me; however, she did not understand. He and I chuckled and exchanged smiles again. I told her that he couldn’t chew the food. This seemed to focus her attention toward him as she uttered or perhaps gasped an understanding, “Oh!” She offered some menu options for dinner. He settled on chicken noodle soup, crackers, and jello. All of which he could probably manage very well with his three teeth. She left with tray in tow, and we returned to our visit which was nearing a natural end.
I asked if we could pray together before I left. He said that would be good. I then asked, as I often do, if there was anything specific that he’d like to pray for or about. His answer, “That I might just get better because I know I won’t get well.” At first I was startled by the acknowledgement of the reality concerning his condition. Here was a man who had the ability and the courage to express the truth of his life as he knew it. And to say it in a way that gets attention. He surely had mine.
With this last revelation he settled into deeper levels of honesty and personal pain. He was concerned about where he would go after leaving the hospital and even more distressed about being a “burden” to his children. I heard his feelings and was able to empathize a bit. Not that I, or anyone else would ever experience his reality in his way. Yet we all from our own varied experiences can recall feelings of anxiety, concern, and loss. How many times have I heard dear ones caught in the grips of illness, or simply and naturally aging, project their own sense of helplessness as a “burden” to their loved ones? The only words I could say to this one were, “I hear you”. Tears were brimming his eyes, and I felt their sting in my own.
“Where is your hope now?” He took his hand from under the cover and simultaneously tapped his chest and pointed upward. I asked if he knew Jesus. “Oh, yes!” was the response. I took his now uncovered hand in mine and prayed. I do not recall anything I said, but I will never forget feeling his hand in mine and the peace that was within and between us. He thanked me for the prayer. I thanked him. I left the room in awe of Roosevelt.
I made my way down the elevator, to the office to get my things, and out the door to the car. I was running a bit late for my next appointment. I had not intended to stay as long as I did with Roosevelt. I had the car radio tuned to the local Christian station as I drove back to town. I was more in tune to my thoughts than my driving or the radio. A review of the morning visits brought serenity and thankfulness for the whole process. I was remembering a recent conversation with a friend about meeting Jesus in the face of strangers when the song on the radio penetrated my thoughts. “We shall behold Him, We shall behold Him; Face to face in all of His glory. We shall behold Him.. . .” Emotions overwhelmed me. Tears flooded my eyes, wonder filled my heart. I wept as the truth sprang up and flooded my soul. I had beheld Him, today, face to face in the glorious face of a little black man with three very misdirected teeth and defiant hair. I beheld him today in Roosevelt. And just think, I almost missed it!
Yes, I almost missed it. I had been on the hospital floor for three hours. I knew if I made one more visit it would intrude into any lunch and “rest” before my afternoon appointment. I also knew, or thought I knew, that Roosevelt was a black man. This knowledge was born of nothing other than my experiences. All the Roosevelt’s I had ever known were black men or boys. This knowledge contributed to some anxiety about visiting him. In my short time as a volunteer chaplain, I had realized that I was more comfortable visiting with women than with men and the least comfortable with black men. I do not believe my uncomfortableness was based on anything other than my lack of experience. So I was stretching, growing, expanding my comfort zone, and that is usually uncomfortable at first.
The debate in my mind over making this particular visit was like a see-saw gone berserk. I won’t make the visit. It’s getting late, and I am tired. I’ll pop in for just a minute. It’s lunch time. He’ll be eating. I will excuse myself to allow him to eat. But I really don’t have time. I was at his door twice and did not knock. I completely left the floor once and came back. What made me finally knock and enter, I do not know. No doubt the Holy Spirit wrestling with my own self-centered, controlling spirit. I have learned over the years that when this struggle is so intense there is apparently something I need to do, learn, or experience from that which my spirit seeks to avoid. I suppose this was never truer than it was today.
How often before have I missed it? Probably more than I care to think or imagine. Yes, I believe we do miss resplendent opportunities to behold God in all of his glory in the faces of those around us. We become self-absorbed in our own agendas, busy with our never ending activities. We become self-consumed, and miss the opportunity to feed and be fed by the Roosevelts encountered daily in our lives. My prayer has become, “Jesus, slow me down. Jesus, open my eyes. Jesus, direct my sights out and around. Jesus, let me really see others. May I see you, Jesus, as I behold others. May your Spirit transform me with each sighting.”
“And we shall behold him, we shall behold him. Face to face in all of his glory.” I beheld Jesus, the Christ, today in the face of a very sick, truthful, and courageous little black man with three misdirected teeth and defiant hair. I was not only blessed but changed, never to be quite the same as before. I pray, Jesus, that he may have seen something of You in me.