I would like to share this story with you:
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to receive his daily medical treatment. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, and places they had been on holiday.
Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened by the description of activity and colour of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a beautiful lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers held hands and walked amidst flowers of every colour of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man described his view from the window in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.
One morning, the nurse informed him that the man beside the window died. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it for himself. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. To his surprise the window faced a brick wall.
The man called for the nurse and asked what could have compelled his deceased roommate to describe such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you,” she said.
It can be easy in our current situation to focus on the negative. Even though we are hearing that we have passed the peak of the virus and that there may be some easing of restrictions in the near future, we are still hearing terrible statistics in the news about people who are dying from the virus and how social distancing may be the norm for some time to come. Some of you reading this may have a loved one desperately sick at present or may have even lost someone in recent days to the virus.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, St. Paul says: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” In this letter, St Paul is writing to some new converts and he is trying to build them up as their faith is being tested severely. Everything around them is challenging their newfound faith and hope and it could be so easy for them to slip back into their old ways of thinking and living.
For us, it can also be easy to get lost in the bad news and allow ourselves to wallow in what brings our mood down. I know that constantly checking the news has often brought my mood down as the 24-hour news media keep repeating the same bad news over and over again. And it can make me feel both helpless and hopeless. But there is something that we can do to change this and both St. Paul and this story give us some guidance.
Firstly, encourage people around you. Even though you don’t feel like it, do it. There is no doubt that when we do kind acts for others, it has a significantly positive impact on our mood. Send that text, join in that family Zoom chat, bake something for a next door neighbour, write a note for friend or simply tell your children you love them. It is clear that the man in the story is unwell and, what is more, he is blind. But, despite this, he consistently and unfalteringly gave the other patient hope each day. He helped the man see what he could not see. And our kindness and encouragement to others will impact on us; “so let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.” (Galatians 6:9)
Secondly, notice the signs of encouragement and hope around you. And I mean notice. It is so easy to quickly flick through our news feeds on social media and only half-glance at the good news stories and feel a faint flicker of encouragement. If you are in the midst of sickness or experiencing the grief of losing someone close to you, it can be difficult to really feel the love and support you receive through cards, texts or in conversation with others. Instead, just like the patient listening to the man telling him the imaginary scenes outside his imaginary window, we need to try to absorb and notice with intention.
So instead of just clapping on Thursday night for the NHS, notice how you feel as you take part in this expression of love and appreciation for these wonderful people. Look around your street, look at the faces of the people clapping, the excitement of the children making noises, the sound of the clapping reverberating around your street, the warm waves of good-bye as you go back into your homes. When you close the door, sit down and spend a moment absorbing what you have just seen and done. Allow it to lift your spirits and give you hope.
Maybe instead of just quickly scrolling through your news feed on your social media, take the time to notice the stories that inspire, all the organisations that are providing so many supportive and encouraging ways for people to stay healthy and well, the videos that make you laugh out loud (and allow yourself to laugh), the kind comments and expressions of love that people are posting for all to read. Notice, appreciate and enjoy the goodness of people, the love that people want to share and the indomitable spirit that is the human spirit.
If someone you love has recently died during this difficult time, even in the midst of your grief, make a decision to notice. Notice the outpourings of love that are coming to you through conversations and texts on the phone, letters and cards that you are receiving, the hugs and expressions of love that you are getting from those you live with, the thoughtfulness of your priest or funeral director as they try to make things easier for you. Love and hope are greater than death.
And what of God? At the heart of our faith is the belief in the incarnation. Specifically, it means that God the Son became human in a man, Jesus of Nazareth. But this way of God entering into our world is not just limited to thousand years ago. Our faith also tells us that we can experience the presence of God through our present shared lived experiences of love, comfort, encouragement, acceptance, joy, gratitude and compassion. It is in these moments that we are in touch with something greater than us. When we feel love from another, when we are encouraged by a text, when we stand in solidarity with our neighbours on a Thursday night, in these moments, we experience something of God. As the poet Patrick Kavanagh wrote; “God is in the bits and pieces of everyday.”
So be encouraged.
Loving God, give me eyes to see as you see. In the bits and pieces of this very strange life that I live at present, help me to see that every expression of love and hope, compassion and kindness, encouragement and support that I see or hear or read or experience, is your way of telling me this simple truth; “I am with you.” Help me to believe, help me to see. Amen.