Meeting Jesus In A Distressing Disguise
Published: September 27, 2012
Bam, Bam, Bam! It was midnight, and I had just drifted into a fitful sleep. We had the clock set for 4 a.m. to take my mother-in-law to surgery at Saint Joseph’s Hospital the next day.
I jumped out of bed and threw open the door. My mother-in-law was in the hall, banging on the door with her cane.
“I threw up,” she announced.
We had given her the last dose of antibiotics an hour ago. One of the side effects, I had noticed sorrowfully when reading the bottle, was severe nausea.
Now I stumbled into the guest room and dealt with the situation. Then I put extra pillows in her bed and advised her to keep her head above stomach level to relieve the nausea. Somehow, it seems I was morphing into a nurse, doling out such tidbits of information.
I returned to bed and dozed off. Bam, Bam, Bam! This time, when I opened the door, she was standing there, fully dressed.
“It’s 5:30,” she exclaimed. “Time to go!”
Panic-stricken, I checked the clock.
“It’s only 3:15,” I said wearily.
“Oh,” she shrugged.
I dressed quickly and went into the kitchen, fearing she might forget the doctor’s orders and eat something before surgery. At 4:45 I groggily looked outside and saw our friend Chris Harvey on the porch. We had asked him to help us get her to the car, since she is unable to navigate our front steps.
This dear friend, a father of four and a member of the Knights of Columbus, gets up at 4 a.m. each day to pray and has assured us, countless times, “Call if you need anything.” So we had done just that.
Now I watched as he and my husband carefully escorted my mother-in-law down the steps and into the car. I bid her goodbye and assured her of prayers, and then returned to the house.
It had not been an easy 24 hours. My husband and I were grappling with a bigger crisis than the surgery. You see, she lives out of town and is fiercely independent, but we were facing the growing realization that she is having memory problems. She was confused, so we had to guide her through the preparation for surgery.
I’d like to tell you I did everything in a thoroughly saintly fashion, but in fact, after hours of her non-stop chatter—and her stubbornness—I was nearing a meltdown—although I managed to bite my tongue and maintain a calm and friendly demeanor in my new role as “Nurse Lorraine.”
It was only later, while reading an email from Chris—and recalling my own husband’s words—that I finally got it. They both reminded me of something Mother Teresa had said, which is this: Jesus sometimes comes in the most distressing disguises.
For Mother Teresa, Jesus came disguised as a desperate young mother with AIDS. For her, Jesus came with the face of a starving child wearing rags. For her, Jesus came as an emaciated homeless man dying in the street.
And now Jesus had come into our home as a rather discombobulated old lady, someone who argued when you told her what the doctors said, and who found fault with people trying to help her.
How do we relate to Jesus in his distressing disguises? Well, in his note Chris mentioned the opportunity to “empty oneself out.”
I knew about this in an abstract way, but I was finally starting to get it. You have to empty out the desire to sleep through the night. Empty out your aversion to cleaning up someone else’s messes. Toss out your resistance to chaos.
I realize that for parents, this is the basic stuff they start doing as soon as the first baby is born—and it continues for many years. But we don’t have children, and so we have missed this opportunity.
And here’s how I believe it’s supposed to go: Once you’ve thrown out your own desires, demands and attachment to comfort, you may experience a big change—but it doesn’t happen overnight.
As for me I’m still discarding piles of spiritual trash—and it may take me the rest of my life because frankly, there’s so much in there.
But here’s what I’ve heard from people who should know—and I deeply believe it.
It seems that once you throw out the extraneous garbage connected with your own ego, you open up a space in your heart. And, then, and perhaps only then, is there finally room for Christ.
Artwork by Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays at email@example.com.