A friend from church was in the hospital waiting for surgery to remove a tumour from her abdomen. Before my visit, I asked if I could bring her anything.
Sharon said she’d like a chocolate milkshake from McDonald’s, and you should have seen the look on her face when I arrived with a large one. “Go big or go home,” I told her. She was still drinking it an hour later.
As I put my coat on to leave, I paused and asked, “Do you want a prayer?”
“Yes,” she answered. So I sat on the edge of the bed, held her hands and stumbled through a prayer requesting comfort and peace, hope and healing. The whole time, I worried my words weren’t coming out right.
That’s my hang-up about spontaneous public prayer: I’m terrible at it. When I’m alone on my yoga mat with my hands in prayer position and my eyes closed, the words are brilliant. They flow easily; they are exactly what I want to say. Ask me to do that out loud, without any forethought, and I choke.
This is how grace works, though, isn’t it? You think you’re being this wonderful person by visiting your friend, that you’re making her life a little easier by helping her cope with anxiety about the upcoming surgery. But the whole time, you’re being set up for a Big Smack in the head.
“This isn’t about you,” says the Smack.
Because the only way any of this was about me was that I learned something: If you’re going to offer up a prayer, do it before you put your coat on, and don’t say “Really?” when the person accepts. Take a couple of slow inhales, and when you pray, talk like you’re on the yoga mat — start with gratitude, be true and honest, and speak from your heart. Go big or go home.
As I waited by the elevators after our visit, an older woman standing nearby spoke to me. She was thin and well dressed, with beautifully coiffed hair and a friendly manner.
After we stepped inside an elevator, she told me that her 97-year-old father was in the hospital with a broken hip and that he also had dementia.
“I’m not coping with this very well today,” she said.
Was grace giving me a chance to try again? I had 15 seconds to be there for her. Inhale and speak from the heart. Instead of offering a prayer, I took the woman’s hand in mine and asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, I’m fine,” she said. “There were people upstairs helping me.”
Her fingers were wrapped around mine, and despite her words, I sensed she wanted to connect. But the elevator doors opened at my floor, so she said, “You’d better go.”
Even before I reached my car, I regretted leaving her alone in the elevator. I wished I’d stayed put and then simply been there in whatever way she needed.
These moments of raw human need are fleeting. They are small and skittish, unwilling to wait around while you think, while you hesitate, while you instinctively reach out then let go. We worry about imposing, but when grace offers up one of those moments, you go big or you go home.
Sara Jewell is a writer in Port Howe, N.S.
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