My father-in-law, Lawrence Haskins, was in a hospital in Oklahoma City.
The doctors had taken out two-thirds of his stomach, and although I didn't
know it at the time, the nurse had forgotten to give him his last two shots
of morphine. He was crawling and twisting on the bed, muttering in a delirium
I sat by his bed and tried to control my own reactions enough to pray, but I have always been angry--enraged--at the wrongness of people having to be sick. It is not supposed to be that way. I should be able to help. I should be able to touch him and make him well ... I know that, but I can't do it.
The more I thought about him, the worse it was for me. The more I thought about my own limitations, the more frustrated I became. I knew I had to stop thinking about him and about myself, but I cannot, as an act of will, simply stop thinking about something that bothers me. I have to think about something else instead.
So I thought about one beautiful thing: the sunrise over an arctic ice-pack I once saw from high altitude. Then another: a truck driver who lay on his side in the mud for half an hour one night, holding pressure on a severed artery in the arm of a man trapped inside a wrecked van. And the smile I saw in the eyes of a little girl when I told her we don't have to earn the love of Jesus.
Slowly, slowly, my frustration and anger and fear melted and were washed away, replaced by a quiet, reverent joy that welled up inside. Yes, joy. The correct word is joy ... like a tangible, liquid substance that flows and has power of its own.
I turned my attention to Lawrence--reached out to him with my mind--and felt that joy flow out of me into him. I felt drained, depressed, almost empty. So I disconnected my thought from him and placed it again on one beautiful thing from my memory. And then another, and another, until the joy welled up again.
I sent him that joy. And I felt it go. I don't know how many times I repeated the cycle, but after awhile he relaxed. He stopped squirming and muttering. His breathing seemed to ease, and he settled into his bed. He began to snore.
After another few cycles I asked in prayer, "Is this how we heal?"
The answer was terse: You are playing over your head, but you do better than you know. You are helping him. But a spring is better than a pump, and a river is better still. You do not have to do it alone.
Lawrence did rest despite the pain. The doctor was surprised to find him sleeping when he came to administer the morphine the nurse had forgotten. And he did mend more rapidly than expected, but he was not healed, and he died of cancer a little over a year later.
Ever since, I have tried to learn how to become a spring, or a part of the river, instead of only a pump.