Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pressing the Button

I work for a church in small town Iowa and part of my job is to make regular visits to our members in local nursing homes. I wish I could say that every one of these visits was an uplifting experience but the truth is that there are tough moments, when someone is failing in health or in memory.

So why do I go? I go to simply be present and listen, knowing that my presence is a reflection of Christ's presence. And for that reason, I always walk away from the experience feeling blessed.

Blessed? Hmm. It's funny, blessing doesn't always mean happiness. Blessing can come in the midst of brokenness or heartache. And with so many of these residents, there is a common struggle that surfaces, at different moments and in different ways, "What am I doing here?"

In other words, they don't think they need the help they're getting. They express a desire to drive around town, to live at home, to be off medications. It seems unfair to lay in bed all day alongside those who are weak.

And because I form such good friendships with some of these individuals, I find myself silently agreeing and cheering them on, "Yeah! Why can't this person be off on their own? They seem clear-headed and capable to me!"

Whenever I start to fall into this mode of thinking, there is an image that keeps me grounded and anchored to the truth. That image is the button next to the exit door of the nursing home. As a guest leaves a plaque instructs, "Please press the button before you leave or alarms will sound."

Stop and think about that for a moment. The only thing preventing these desperate individuals from escaping is the ability to push a button before they exit. What a poignant reminder of their need for assistance.

I heard of one nursing home (specifically for those with memory issues) that wanted to avoid alarms at the nursing station. Instead they placed a fake bus stop outside the building. The staff would occasionally walk out to the bus stop to retrieve those who were waiting for a bus that was never going to come.

It's easy to think of ourselves as being "different" from these nursing home residents. They are weak but we are strong. But is that really true? If I'm being honest with myself, I'm far less capable than I like to pretend. I mean well but I hurt people unintentionally, I argue with my wife, I give in to temptations.

If I'm to confront my denial head-on then I have to finally admit: I need help. I need another to be my strength. I need another to take my place upon that cross. Thank you, God, that you chose to love me even in my weakest moments, and you will lift me up on wings like eagles. Amen.

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