Sue Monk Kidd wrote an article in the November/December 1990 issue of Weavings (A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life) in which she described an experience when she was 12 visiting a nursing home with her church youth group. Sue wanted to go swimming with her friends on this particular day close to the end of summer, but her mother made her go to the church event.
She spoke with an elderly woman whose appearance saddened her - 'the worn down face, the lopsided grin, the tendrils of gray hair protruding from a crochet lavender cap'. Sue gave her a bouquet of crepe paper flowers.
The woman looked at her and said, "You didn't want to come, did you child?"
The words stunned me. They were too painful, too powerful, too naked in their honesty. 'Oh yes, I wanted to come,' I protested.
A smile lifted one side of her mouth. 'It's ok,' she said. 'You can't force the heart.'"
Many years later I had a similar experience. When I was employed as a speech pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, I worked two weekends a quarter. Sunday I kept my pager on and only went in if there was an emergency. Saturday, however, involved a regular eight-hour day.
One particular Saturday, I was tired, wanted to stay home and dreaded going in. When I reached the hospital, checked on the stack of patient folders left from Friday, I started making my rounds. Most of my patients were on the neurology floor.
Entering one gentleman's room, a stroke patient, I introduced myself and explained what we were going to address. He looked at me and said, "You didn't want to come in today did you?"
He shocked me into reality. How could he know my thoughts - that I really wanted to be home spending time with my teenage daughter?
I stumbled for words, just like Sue did, and finally said, "Oh no! I'm glad to be here."
What had betrayed my heart? Was it something in my facial expression or demeanor? Even though the patient had experienced a stroke, he was able to perceive and express what I was trying to hide.
When I walked out of his room forty-five minutes later, I remembered Sue Monk Kidd's article. I couldn't force my heart. The compassion I wanted to convey to this patient as well as the other patients that day was empty and gone. I was dishonest with God, with myself, and especially with a patient I wanted to help.
Walking up and down the hospital halls as I saw patients the rest of the day, I asked God to take my weariness and give me strength, so I could be present and focus sincerely on each person I encountered. I did receive energy as the day progressed and felt the return of heartfelt compassion which I usually brought to my work.
Driving home, I realized I needed to be honest with God before I left for work in order to have a heart ready to give care that would honor God despite what I was feeling. Putting "myself on the shelf" for the duration of my day is attainable with God's help.
Prayer: God, many times our feelings surface in ways that prevent us from being as sincere and compassionate as we desire. Sometimes we do have to force our hearts to go through a day when we are overcome with our own struggles, desires or fatigue. Help us remember Jesus' words, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy and I will give you rest". Hold and carry our hearts and give us strength to complete our tasks until we can rest in you. Amen.