A mother sat crying alone on a vinyl couch in a small waiting area next to the hospital surgery room. My thoughts raced as I introduced myself as the chaplain.
Her son had been shot in a gang fight and I wondered what I could possibly say or do to help her. I sat down on a corner of the couch and issued a silent, desperate prayer: “God, give me words to comfort this woman.”
The silence seemed like an eternity but, a few seconds later, I calmly confessed to her that I had no words to say and asked if I could hold her hand.
I moved closer and together we sat holding hands until news came that her son would live. I hope my presence helped her. I believe I benefited more through the experience than anything I was able to offer her. It’s been more than 30 years and I haven’t forgotten that night when God gave me courage to listen for guidance and act, rather than speak.
I was given the opportunity to be a non-anxious presence in a difficult circumstance. I am still grateful. It doesn’t have to be an emergency situation. Quick moment-to-moment prayers throughout the day can and do make a difference. The practice is as simple as breathing in and out. God is here. God is near. The intimacy of prayer is a comfort amidst all life circumstances.
The Gospel of John is all about personal, prayerful relationship with God. I like to think of it as a memo — God’s Post-it note to us. John 3:16 is a favorite verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that all who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” That is a short, comforting note.
With more Post-its, John calls us into ourselves to pray and then out of ourselves to help others. Only in John (chapters 13-17) does Jesus give a farewell address of instructions, reminding us to love each other as he loves us. He will prepare a place for us but, until we leave this world, we are to live by the rule of loving others. He promises we will have peace, but not as the world gives peace. I think the peace he is talking about is an inner peace that comes like the insight and call to action I received as I sat with the tearful mother so many years ago.
Jesus promises to send the Spirit of Truth, like a comforter, to remind us what Jesus taught and even more. We are to be in the world, but not of it. Through personal prayer, the Spirit can calm us down, nudge us to do something, or prompt us to be quiet and hold someone’s hand. Through prayer, the comfort of the Spirit helps us realize we are children of God. We can breathe in that thought and relax into the assurance that we are all in this messy world together and therefore siblings connected through the risen Christ. The best way we can find his presence on earth now is through the practice of mutual love within our communities and beyond to the world. The outpouring of love toward others is the exhale John’s Gospel proposes.
Churches and groups of people joining forces for the well being of others make love visible. Service work that provides help in times of need and the overall elimination of human suffering makes the world a better place. Programs — such as food pantries, homeless shelters, relief efforts and any actions that simply share human kindness and improve quality of life — produce loving light to counter darkness in the world. This witness based in mutuality and love is like a breath of fresh air. The result is true peace and power to guide us into the future.
The Rev. Patricia A. Stout is retired and serving as part-time pastor at Iberia Presbyterian Church in Iberia, Ohio.
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