Years later, I sat at the hospital bed of Mabel the Teeth Grinder and held her hand, as she was dying. Her sister would have been there, but she was in the room next door, battling congestive heart failure, in the kind of weird twist of fate that lands two sisters in side by side hospital rooms within 24 hours of each other.
We prayed prayers of peace and we sat in the silence and we read the psalms. Mable told me stories of her childhood. And I listened. Then we sat in the silence some more, as her breathing became increasingly ragged. After a few minutes, I leaned over and whispered that I was going to head next door, to her sisters bedside, but that I would keep her near in spirit. Without a response, I lifted her hand from mine and stood to move from the stern, to the bow. Somewhere in the middle, I heard a weak voice say, “Its taken death for me to finally understand that peace you’re always rambling on and on about.”
I figure that’s how it is sometimes. We can stand around, grinding our teeth, assuming the worst from everyone – and we can miss the real thing. The spirit thing. Because we were so caught up in knowing what is right and what is wrong, in knowing with certainty what the Bible does and doesn’t say, in assuming the worst in our leadership and in the stranger. We get so caught up in sinking our oars as deep as we can into the murky waters that we can’t leave space for the Spirit to move. And I don’t mean, move in the ways we expect or want the Spirit to move…but to move in the ways that the Spirit does. Wildly unexpected ways.
I moved into Clara’s room and she reached for my hand, immediately asking me if I’d eaten and if I was getting enough rest and if the communion trays had been filled. It was her week to prepare communion, she said. I nodded my head and assured her that the communion trays would be adequately filled by weeks-end and asked her not to worry. She sunk her head further into the pillow and sighed. So we prayed prayers of peace and we sat in the silence and we read the psalms. Clara told me stories of her childhood. And I listened. Then we sat in the silence some more, as her breathing became increasingly ragged, when suddenly Clara opened her eyes and said, “Don’t let me die before Mabel. It’d kill her.” I smiled at Clara…always the martyr. And told her I had very little to do with time of death, but I’d see what I could muster. And she settled into her rest.
As time drew near, I leaned into her ear to let her know that I was heading out, but would be keeping her and her sister in prayer, when she reached once more for my hand and asked, “is this what God feels like? Like this aching and this peace all mixed together.” I told her suspected it was.
I figure that’s how it is sometimes. We get so busy with all our doing and being sacrificial that we can’t make space for the holy and it becomes impossible for God’s aching peace to move in and change us. We focus so much on our servant heart, that we can’t see that we have a spiritual heart that needs tending to, too.
But the thing is, there’s space in the middle of the canoe.
It’s okay to sit in the middle of the boat and let God’s spirit work in you. It’s okay to peer into the murky waters and wonder what the heck God might be up to. To not be so sure about what the Bible says or what Jesus would do, that you leave room for wonder. It’s okay to take a bit of rest from the teeth grinding or the martyrdom or wherever you might be at, in between, and just be open to letting God do God’s thing. God’s wildly unexpected thing.