James was in his 40s when we met. In retrospect, I don’t know if James was gentle or broken; I’m thinking broken. He was severely burned several years earlier while working under the hood of a car when it burst into flames. After his accident he lived with, and was dependent upon, his elderly father. But after his father’s death James had to find a place to live that he could afford. As his Medical Social Worker, I helped him relocate to a HUD subsidized apartment; secured the medical equipment he needed and arranged for home delivered meals and assistance with housecleaning and errands.
I had an inexplicable affinity for James, a natural and immediate attraction. Perhaps it was because, to me, James seemed to be experiencing what the existential philosopher; Soren Kierkegaard termed “existential despair;” a pervasive loss of hope, of identity, of self worth. It’s more than an emotional reaction to an outward situation; it reaches to the very core of your existence. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) When we lose one of these we suffer great loss; but when we lose all three we become desperate. James seemed to have lost all three. That’s why, when my work as his Social Worker was completed, I visited James on my own time.
I know that some will point out how I violated professional boundaries; but in the words of John Quinones from the ABC hidden camera show, I ask, “What would you do?” Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) Knowing what Jesus could do for James, what He did for me, how could I not tell him?
But things didn’t go as smoothly as I expected. James’ sister and brother-in-law were at his apartment; and when I started exploring James’s beliefs they started mocking Christians, pointing out the “hypocrisy” of fallen TV evangelists. I walked away in defeat, licking my wounds, and questioned why God set me up just to be ridiculed and rejected. But then I heard that “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12), “Are you more concerned about what they think about you or about what they think about Me? They didn’t reject you they rejected me.”
A few weeks later James was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and his death appeared imminent. I asked James if I could have my pastor visit and he agreed. My pastor graciously lead James in the “sinner’s prayer.” James’ condition stabilized and he was moved to a regular floor. But something just didn’t seem right to me. There was no manifest peace or hope in James’ affect or conversation. So I asked James, “Are you sure?” His response was immediate and adamant, “Get out of my room!” Again I left licking my wounds and prayed, “God, what else do you expect from me?” Then God’s response was immediate and adamant, “I’ll show you what I can do without you.”
Later that afternoon, James’ brother-in-law, the same one who just a few weeks earlier had mocked Christianity, hunted me down and told me, “James wants to see you right away.” When I entered James’ room he immediately told me, “Now I know what you mean. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not alone.” James died unexpectedly that afternoon and his brother-in-law exclaimed, “Someone should have told him about God sooner!”
Several years have passed since James’ death and I’m still untangling the lessons. I now realize that God can use one situation to accomplish a thousand good things. But I guess the moral of a story depends upon which side of the fence you’re standing on. So instead of conclusions, I’ll leave you with a couple existential questions, “Are you sure?” and “What would you do?”