“I tried that. It doesn’t work!” She screamed at me, when I told her I was praying for her.
I had gone to the hospital to make sure that the hemiplegic migraine slamming the left side of my body wasn’t a stroke. (It wasn’t. I’m fine now.) In the emergency room, with beds separated only by curtains, I could clearly hear a woman’s moans and cries. Each cry injected fresh pain into my already-throbbing head, and my initial reaction was to cover my ears and pray she would stop making so much noise. Instantly, I felt ashamed. Surely, she didn’t want her pain any more than I wanted mine.
Pain is part of the human condition, and sometimes I get so caught up in my own pain that I forget my neighbor is hurting, too. But this time, by the grace of God, a wave of compassion flowed into me. I started silently praying that God would make his presence known to that woman, comfort her, and relieve her pain–not for my sake, but for her. Her cries continued, and I continued to pray, for what seemed a very long time.
After the ER doctor confirmed my migraine, and gave me a shot to dull the throbbing and a walker to get to the restroom, I got up and peeked into the woman’s curtained-off area. I didn’t know what what caused her distress, but I wanted her to know that someone cared.
Since I’d heard only one voice, it surprised me to see two women. The woman crying out from the bed was elderly, maybe the age of my own mother. The woman slumped in the seat next to her seemed around my age. She was staring down, but looked up and nodded when I asked if I might come in for a moment.
I never got their names, but I learned that they were mother and daughter. The mother in the bed seemed confused. Even though I wore a hospital gown, had an IV in my arm, and leaned on a walker, and even though her daughter explained that I was a fellow patient, the older woman seemed to think that I was a nurse, refusing to help.
I didn’t preach. When someone’s hurting, they don’t need a preacher. I asked if I could get some water or a cold compress, or track down someone on the medical staff for them. The daughter assured me that efforts to comfort her mother were in the works. I silently prayed that comfort would arrive speedily.
My presence seemed to agitate the sick woman, so I made a quick exit. Before I did, I let her know that I was praying for her. That’s when she screamed at me. The younger woman, however, thanked me profusely, and her body language both relaxed and perked up. Then I knew I had two people to pray for.
Some people don’t like to know when we pray for them, and those people don’t need to know. God hears, whether or not we tell, and there’s no point upsetting them, especially when we’re asking for God’s blessings on their behalf. It’s been my experience, though, that when someone is very sick or dying, or very sad or stressed, they usually welcome prayer. So, unless I know for a fact that they don’t want to know, I tell them when I’m praying for them. More often than not, it’s appreciated. If it’s not, I drop the subject immediately. God doesn’t need a wing man to captivate a heart.
I don’t know whatever happened with that woman, but after I left her side of the curtain, I heard gentle words from the younger woman, and the older woman quieted. Perhaps her medication kicked in. Perhaps her daughter’s voice soothed her. Perhaps God eased her pain or comforted her spirit in ways we can’t understand. I don’t know. I just know that God cares about our suffering, and he allowed my pain to connect with her pain that day.
Have you had a close encounter of the prayer kind? Has anyone ever told you not to pray for them? How do you handle that?