Letters from a Hospital Bed is a series of reflections by Jim Houston, now entering his 100th year, in which Jim seeks to capture and reflect new insights of his ever-discoverable God, revealed through his own hospitalization, for the encouragement of all care givers.
August 25, 2022
I suppose it is rather unremarkable that, living as I do in a hospital, I should be reminded rather often that there is a lot of sickness around and with that sickness, mercifully, a lot of care being given. Hardly surprising anyone might reasonably think, but not very popular, and for most of my life hospitals were a place I could not leave soon enough. They may well be filled with gracious care, but I hated them with a passion perhaps because I had been so incarcerated in them as a young and rather sickly boy. Instead of being with my friends, I was sitting in an oxygen tent, wrestling with the misery of diphtheria. I’m not surprised that I grew to loathe the sight of a hospital. But that has all had to change, for now I not only visit but I live in one, and rather a nice one at that. So, it is unremarkable that I should be thinking and reflecting a lot on physicians and their ilk and, in particular, Christ as our healer.
In our hyper-individualistic culture to be the solitary hero is esteemed. We herald “I did it my way”. We prize individualism and self-sufficiency. We eschew dependence. Yet biblical language is never individualistic, but ‘personal’ as God Himself is One God in Three Persons. Becoming individualistic was the cause for 'the Fall of Man’. Humanity lost the identity God had given to us, and still expects us to have. This is a profound sickness that God still intends to heal, if we allow Him to be our great physician. The sickness of being alone is a ’sickness’ that no early Father, even by turning to the Old Testament prophets, could heal. Only Christ our Saviour-Healer, can ever do that. Even the animals know their masters; animals as stupid as a donkey, but Israel refused to know and relate to God as their Redeemer-Physician and it cost them dearly.
The foundations of our ancient European universities like Oxford, Paris, Strasbourg, Salamanca, and Rome, were monastic. Even today, in an echo of their distant past, these universities still provide that lecturers should both lecture and teach personally to each student also as a tutor, in the original sense of having a ‘spiritual father’. That is why we call the early fathers of the churches, ’Spiritual Fathers”. They were themselves following the counsel of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 11:14 reminds us that “for lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory (and by that I include our emotional healing) is found through many advisors.” For all of us to have no friend as a counsellor, is a wretched state to be in, stripped bare, to bear no fruit to delight the lives of others. Only to have ’the self’ to guide one, is blindness indeed. So, the early Fathers were emphatic that to be wise is never to be self-taught. Such are deluded in false convictions. It is like wandering through an unmapped territory, refusing all guidance, just stumbling, lost, alone. Then as Ecclesiastes 4:10 warns us: “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” Of course, we all need experienced guides who have travelled the same roads we are now on, who know the cul-de-sacs, the traps, snares, and dangers of wild animals, of which we are totally innocent. These metaphors of being lost, fallen down, covered with leaves, caught by traps, and encountering wild animals, are all graphic images that God originally stated in the creation of Adam, “It is not good to be alone”.
I love the imagery of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 1:5
Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. 6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness— only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil
And the psalmist in Psalm 6…
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?
I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.
It takes an open and dependent heart to be healed by Grace. Michael Perry (1942-1996) captures well the cry of my own heart in his hymn.
Heal me, hands of Jesus, and search out all my pain; restore my hope, remove my fear, and bring me peace again.
Cleanse me, blood of Jesus, take bitterness away; let me forgive as one forgiven and bring me peace today.
Know me, mind of Jesus, and show me all my sin; dispel the memories of guilt and bring me peace within.
Fill me, joy of Jesus; anxiety shall cease, and heaven's serenity be mine, for Jesus brings me peace!
After a lifetime of never wanting to be around hospitals and their caring ways, I am now growing to appreciate that to eschew healing is to run from the very heart of a loving God. So many of us, in our often-desperate efforts to be self-sufficient, to fight against dependency, to insist on ‘my way’, lose sight that in our creation, in our Image-bearing, we were never made to be alone. Look about and see, whom has the Lord placed to care for you and for whom He has placed you to care for others? For such is His way, each for the other. May it be so. In friendship Jim