Surprised by a prayer

Published 7:40 am Monday, December 12, 2016

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Contributing writer

I had almost talked myself out of visiting him. Had I stayed with my original plan, I would have missed the blessing.

Sometimes I feel that visiting my parishioners who are residents in local long-term care facilities is not the most productive use of my time. After all, I’ve reasoned, some of them don’t remember that I’ve even been there. And, for others, the more I visit, the longer they seem to expect me to stay.

But along the way, they’ve encouraged me. When one resident was told it was Wednesday, she exclaimed, “Wednesday, Preacher Day.” She reminded me that you don’t always have to see visible results to make a difference in someone’s life.

And now that my dad has died and Mom is alone, I appreciate all the more those who listen to her. As I do my little part to care for others here, I’m praying someone is doing the same for my mom there. 

On this particular Wednesday, I was racing through the day like a horse training for the Kentucky Derby. I had places to go and projects to complete. 

I was practically trotting by the rooms in the facility, almost bypassing Monroe’s room. He suffers from the early stages of dementia, and when he isn’t asleep, Monroe sometimes wants me to stay longer than I’m able. I was relieved to find him sleeping, for that meant I could silently pray for him and move on to the next visit. 

I bowed my head to pray for my friend when I noticed his lips moving. The other occupant in the room had the TV on “nursing home volume,” so I had to stop and bend over to hear what, if anything, Monroe was saying.

What I heard astonished me.

He was praying. Monroe was praying for churches in our community. His prayer was as lucid as the ones I used to hear him say in church years ago — when he was a healthy, active deacon in our congregation.

“Oh, Lord, bless the churches in our community; may they shine for you and reach people with the gospel.”

I stood there, amazed at his clarity as he spoke to God. Monroe is frequently confused, his sentences disjointed, and sometimes I’m not sure he knows who I am.

Realizing something special was happening, I tiptoed to the other side of his bed, and bent down closer to him.

With his eyes closed, unware of my presence, Monroe continued his prayer, and then began praying for me, his pastor. “Lord, thank you for sending Dr. Whitlock our way. We are so blessed to have him with us. He preaches his heart out every Sunday, Lord, and I ask you to bless him, cause he’s a man of God.”

For what seemed like several minutes, he prayed like that for me. I was stunned, and my heart melted as I stood in the presence of this man’s sweet soul as he cried out to God for me, his pastor. Because he was unaware of my presence, he wasn’t praying to exhort me, to encourage me, although that would have been absolutely fine. But he was simply thanking God for me, just Monroe talking to God, with no audience to impress with his words. Tears filled my eyes because I was humbled as I listened to him speaking to God on my behalf.

He was so clear and sincere that I finally thought, “I’d better record some of this, because no one will believe me if I tell them.” But of course, as soon as I reached for my cell phone, Monroe opened his eyes wide, startled at my presence.

“Dr. Whitlock,” he said, recognizing me, “you’ve come to visit me.”

Indeed, I had. But I wasn’t the one who did the ministering that day. No, far from it.

I walked away, overflowing with joy for having been privileged to peek into the window of a soul turned inside out for his Lord and having listened to a heart amplified with words of love for his pastor. 

You can contact Dr. David Whitlock at drdavid@davidwhitlock.org. He website is davidwhitlock.org.