Friday, December 24, 2010

The Visitor

This is a strange place, I thought, as I stared into the darkness of my solitary room. I’m not sure this is the place for me. I opened the curtains and stared into the darkness outside and then went back to the bed. There was nothing in the room except the bed, a large TV that didn’t’ work and two books in the drawer next to the bed. The first was a fat and flimsy phone book. I thumbed through its pages, but the lists of names and places seemed like a foreign language and had no meaning. I looked at the other, with its black cover and its simple title, “Holy Bible”. Inside was a stamp, “The Gideons International”.

I opened it up to the first page “In the beginning, God…Let there be light”. I stopped at this point and went to the window and opened the curtain. Rays of light pierced the black horizon and I saw the outline of a large tree which became sharper and filled with color as the light rose in the east. This God must be wonderful to create such a world. I closed the book and left my room and went outside into this new world.

I felt a cool nip from a brisk wind as I stared at the tree that I’d seen outside my window. Its leaves were a bright gold and, as the wind blew, I saw several of them carried on the breeze. They settled on the ground with silent resolution as I walked on, following the last leaf to its resting place far away from the mother tree. As I walked I saw many buildings and vehicles and the air became filled with a foul smell as I walked past a large black building that was sending its smoke high into the morning sky. I guess this world is not as wonderful as I thought. And I went back to my room.

I sat on the bed and read more of the book.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made”.

And I read how the beautiful Garden was spoiled and I cried. This
God must have given something more. He wouldn’t allow his creation to exist with
such despair. And I read on. So many of the people were cruel and hateful, but a few remained true to God. And then I read the answer:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me…”

I read those commandments over and over. These are words that will cause the ruin of Satan and surely will allow the world to return to its original beauty. And so I went out again, filled with hope that the laws of God were all that the people of the world needed.

I walked for a while. I saw the people milling about, some smiling, some hand in hand and I was filled with joy. God’s commandments were all the world needed. But, as I walked along I glanced down a side street and saw a man strike a woman. She fell to the ground and he ran off with the bag she had been carrying. But the laws; what about the laws? I walked on. I saw a group of men and women beating an old man, laughing as they kicked him in the side. I ran to help the old man as the vicious mob left him lying on the ground. I stooped down and held his bloody face, but there was no life in him as I gently laid his head on the ground. God’s laws mean nothing to these people. And I went back to my room.

These people have forgotten what’s in this book. Surely they all must have read it. I read on and on.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die…
A time to love, and a time to hate…
A time for war, and a time for peace”

Maybe it’s not the time for God? I’ll venture out into the world again. And so I went out, again. The sun was high in the sky and people milled about as before. I passed a building filled with people, laughing, singing, a place of celebration. I went inside. There were men and women mingling about, all of them smiling and laughing. I stood at a long wooden counter and a man asked me if I wanted anything. I looked at him and smiled, but I didn’t say a word and he went away. I looked up at the large TV “…war in the Middle East seems to be escalating as Israel and Lebanon traded bombs earlier today…” I picked up the newspaper that was on the counter “…terrorist attacks in Europe have raised the alert level to red…” A time for war, but is there a time for peace? I left that place and went back to my room. The crispness of autumn had given away to the frigid snow of winter.

I continued to read.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger…

‘Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’…

…he was called Jesus…”

And I read on. Surely this Jesus is the answer. His words bring strength and meaning to God’s laws. And so I went back into the world. Outside the ground was white with snow and bright colored lights were everywhere. The world is celebrating the news, a giant, joyful gala for Jesus. The people must be very happy that God has remained faithful to them.even when they are bad.

I heard all types of song, about the joy of Christmas and people wishing each other Happy Holidays and exchanging gifts. But, the songs carried a different massage. The music sounded joyful, but the words were empty. I heard about Santa Claus and reindeer and snow and trees and poor Grandma was run over by a reindeer and there was something about a “Grinch”. But nary word about God or Jesus. I guess was wrong to think that a holiday called Christmas would be about Jesus Christ. There must be some other Christ that is being celebrated.

In despair I went back to my room. I read more of the book.

“So they took Jesus and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him…

…it is finished, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’. Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord…’.”

And I read on and then I knew. God never gave up on his creation. His love is so great that He gave all that he could so that mankind would be free. Even though the world wallows in sin, God’s grace overcomes the evil and his love shines through. And, finally, I understood and I went back into the world. I still saw the wickedness and corruption, but I also saw hope and truth; truth that needs to be shared with all the world.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

At Night

“I only need the pain med at night”; “I just take one a day, at night when I’m trying to sleep”; “I need something to help me at night”; I hear words like these over and over from patients. Something happens at night, lying in the dark waiting for the escape of sleep to overtake us. The pain of recent surgery often intrudes and seems more intense at these moments. The distractions of the daytime; other people, the humdrum light and noise of the daytime are gone and all the pain that has been buried during waking hours rises to the surface.

Our brain is amazing, the way it filters out wave after wave of unwanted stimuli, selecting only what’s important to capture our attention. But all this stimulation fades away in the night and we are left with only ourselves, our thoughts, dreams and pains. My patients fill out a history questionnaire as part of their initial evaluation; one of the symptoms they can check is difficulty sleeping. I think almost half my patients check this box.

Little children cry out in fear and their parents rush to comfort them; the darkness and solitude are fertile ground for the young imagination, calling up horrible monsters that prey on the innocent, but are frightened away by even the tiniest bit of light and a few sharp words from a loving parent.

The monsters of childhood give way to the demons of our later years. The worries of these supposedly enlightened progressive times creep out during the dark hours, robbing us of the tranquility that sleep promises. Perhaps the monsters are real; a prodigal child, a wayward spouse, financial burdens or disappointment over perceived failure, concerns that well up into our consciousness at a time when we yearn for the serenity and peace of sleep.

Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” fame would lie awake at night and ask questions out loud addressed to no one in particular or, perhaps, to God. The answers were never particularly comforting:

“Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask ‘where did I go wrong?’ And a voice answers ‘This is going to take more than one night.”-Charlie Brown in ‘Peanuts’

“Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask ‘Why me?’ And a voice answers, ‘Nothing personal, your number just came up’-Charlie Brown in ‘Peanuts’

Is God so arbitrary? I doubt it.

But, the night isn’t always bad. Triumphs and successes of the day bring a sense of joy and excitement that can keep us from the peace of sleep. It is far more likely that elation leads to celebration and sleep is banished for a while; our day to day struggles pushed back into the recesses of our brain, quietly waiting for the moment to emerge and send our joyful feelings crashing into the abyss.

The Bible speaks of rest as a reward, something given by God for work well done.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." -Matthew 11:28-30

At the end of a long day or a long life God rewards us with His rest. Scripture presents rest as the ultimate gift from God. Over a six day period God created the universe and our world and on the seventh day He rested. Number four of the ten commandments is to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, which means set apart as something special, a time for rest.
So night is the time for rest, to be alone with God and with our thoughts; a time of reflection on the day’s events and a time to anticipate the days to come. So many times at night I think about the day that has just past, surgery’s that have been done, family concerns and any troubles. It’s a time to offer prayers of thanks and supplication. Personally, I think God listens best at such moments or, more likely, I can focus better at these times; the quiet darkness shielding my thoughts from unwanted intrusion.
And then there’s sleep. We drift away from consciousness, but remain alive. While we sleep amazing things happen. Although it has never been proven I think that sleep provides a time for repair: physical, mental and emotional. Body temperature falls, heart rate decreases, blood pressure decreases and vascular resistance falls. Our organs are bathed in blood that seems to circulate more slowly during sleep, allowing built up toxins to be released and disposed, focusing our immune system on potential invaders, repairing damages done and probably a multitude of other functions that remain a mystery.
Sleep is the time for dreams, our pent up thoughts and feelings released into a private theater that may be cryptic, vivid, heart-warming or terrifying. Sometimes in color, sometimes in black and white, Freud wrote a whole book on the interpretation of dreams. The Bible gave special credence to those that could interpret dreams and treated our dreams as messages from God. Daniel and Joseph were the premier dream interpreters of the Bible; they both suffered because of this skill, but were also rewarded. Most often our dreams leave us confused and often we forget them as soon as we awaken; leaving us with a vague recollection that something of importance may have transpired, but little more.
We may never remember a dream and remain oblivious to our environment, but we still yearn for sleep, for this time of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual repair. We cannot live without its benefits and yet it can prove to be so elusive. Lying awake, tossing and turning, counting sheep by the millions, downing pills and elixirs; searching for the elusive rest. Our world has become so complicated that moments to relax, do nothing and dream become fleeting until they seem lost forever.
Where can we find peace? As children the comforting word or touch of a parent was all that was needed. So, we come back to our parent, to God, our Heavenly Father. His word, His grace, His promise are all that we need to find rest. It is promised throughout the Bible and night is the time when we can feel His soothing touch and receive His peace.