One day my pastor invited me to join him on a pastoral visit to a nursing home. I wanted to please him, so I said I would go. I had no desire to be there. I didn’t know this woman we were going to see, but I knew once we got that out of the way we would go to lunch and we could discuss theology.
I have never liked nursing homes. In high school and college it seemed like I was always connected with some group of people who wanted to go Christmas caroling at “the old folks home.” I loathed that time. The place was depressing. The old people sat there in their wheelchairs staring out into nothingness or nodding along silently clapping their hands. The places also smelled. They smelled “too clean.” They were always so institutional and if you had been in one, you’d been in them all.
This day with my pastor we walked into the room. It was filled with pictures. It was quiet and the sun was streaming in the windows. I could barely see the woman in her bed. She was simply bones wrapped in skin buried under a pile of blankets. I will never forget her eyes. As she saw Pastor Bob they gleamed. He knelt next to her, eye to eye, and spoke with her.
“How are you?” he asked gently and quietly.
Unable to speak her eyes fell. The pain apparent on her face. When she opened her eyes the glimmer was gone and replaced with sadness.
“Do you want to be with Jesus?” he asked ever more gently.
Again her eyes closed and when they opened there was an unadulterated joy in her countenance. Her eyes glimmered with a hope that went beyond anything I had ever known before.
He prayed. He prayed for her to be able to join her Savior, where there would be no more pain, where her tears would be wiped away, and that she would be made whole.
Her eyes were so full of joy and peace.
My mind was spinning a million miles an hour. I was both offended and moved by the prayer. I was confused. I didn’t know what to expect walking in and I didn’t know what to think or even feel as we left.
Something was changing in me though. I was not the same person I was fifteen minutes before, or was it an hour. To this day, that experience felt like a dream.
We got back into the car and he looked me in the eye and said, “That is pure and undefiled religion, Dan, being there with her in these moments. This is what it is to minister like Jesus. (James 1:19–27)”
There was silence for a while.
Looking back on that day I realize that God began a work to help me understand that faith was more than intellectual ascent.
Faith is lived. Real faith is displayed in our bodies in the physical acts that we live out every day.