Just One More Lap
AUGUST 18, 2016AUGUST 18, 2016 / LSELLISBLOG
Note: Laura Ellis served as an intern at Lifeline Chaplaincy Houston in summer, 2016.
She waved me inside impatiently even though I tried to discretely
leave the room after seeing that the woman in the bed was talking
on the phone. I walked in the room a few steps and explained
who I was, and that I could come back at a better time. She shook
her head and aggressively patted the couch next to her.
I sat down and was sudden uncertain of where to look. I felt as
though the direction of my gaze would show that I was listening
in on the personal conversation that she all but invited me to
eavesdrop on. I stared blankly at the sink across the room as if it
wasn’t the thousandth one I had seen just like it today.
A few minutes, Cindy told the person on the phone that she had
to hang up because someone walked in to see her. So now I was
not only eavesdropping on her conversation, but single-handedly
responsible for ending it. I started to apologize, but she cut me off
by saying, “I had been talking to that person for over an hour, so
it was time for that conversation to be over. Besides I’ve been
wanting to see a chaplain.”
For the next hour, Cindy told me about the death of her dear
friend. Cindy described them as sisters and that her friend had
shown her love unlike anyone she had ever known. It was
obvious to me that Cindy’s friend was more than a friend, more
than even a sister, but truly a piece of Cindy’s soul.
Sacred Spaces: Encountering God in the Unexpected
She spoke beautifully of her friend for a while until the
conversation took a steep nose dive into talk of her death and
Cindy’s grief. In her mourning Cindy had neglected her own
health, and was hospitalized for it.
After a while of talking she looked at me timidly and confessed
that she had already talked to her church pastor earlier that day.
He responded to her tears by urging her to move on with phrases
like “in a better place” and “ashes to ashes.” I shook my head and
confessed that I probably would not have been satisfied with her
pastor’s words either. She was relieved when I agreed that his
response was not very comforting.
Cindy was a Christian. She believed in God and heaven, and she
knew where her friend was. But regardless of her beliefs on
where her friend went after she died, Cindy was not in that
place with her friend, and that was something worth grieving
As a Western culture, I do not think we allow ourselves to grieve
in natural ways. It is not that we do not know how to grieve. The
problem is that we innately know how to grieve, but were
raised in a society that makes us question if it’s okay to
experience this natural and necessary process, especially as
I encountered so many suffering people this summer, but there
were very few who seemed at peace with death. We live in a
culture that defies a significant certainty we all have. I think this is
incredibly detrimental to own our dying, and our grieving
process when our loved ones die. Cindy knew her friend was
very sick before she died, but I think a part of her never expected
her to actually die.
We have this odd habit of removing ourselves from death by
turning it into a distant concept instead of an concrete
occurrence. Then when it is a death that actually affects us, we are
wholeheartedly unprepared to confront it.
The pastor’s response to Cindy’s grief was an incredibly removed
one. Even if the cold hard truth is that her friend is in a better
place and that she was made of ashes and to ashes she will
return, this does not even begin to address that pain that Cindy
Cindy was not doubting her faith because of this tragedy, but her
pastor’s well-meaning yet misguided words of theology seemed
to have that effect. As a church and a society we too often give
people parameters for grief as if such a thing could fit in a cookie
cutter box. Maybe it’s time we drop the too often recited church
dogma long enough to actually see the person suffering as a
person not an answer to a theology essay.
I am reminded that Jesus’ response to the pain, disappointment,
and grief of others was compassion. When we read the story of
Lazarus, we often focus on the miracle of resurrection. But let us
not forget the very human emotions that happened.
Both Martha and Mary blamed Jesus for not preventing
Lazarus’s death. And then all of them, including Jesus, wept. If
this story happened today, I wonder if someone would tap Jesus
on the shoulder and urge him to stop crying, by reminding him
that Lazarus is after all in a better place.
The saddest part of Cindy’s pastor’s remarks are that they ended
the conversation. They were easy answers to difficult questions.
In a way they were more for the pastor than they were for Cindy.
I’m sure these words felt like the right things to say at the time,
but really they just saved the pastor of a possible uncomfortable
conversation of doubt rather than the openness that Cindy
In the middle of my visit with Cindy, she asked me to join her for
some exercise. We did slow laps around the ward as we talked
about God, the grieving process, and better ways to care for
herself through it.
Every time we would finish another lap and approach her door
Cindy would look at me and say, “Let’s do just one more lap.”
Doing one more lap means that we are not afraid to face the
reality of the honest emotions that people feel in times of
hardship. More than that, it shows that perhaps it is okay to feel
these emotions in the first place. This is what ministry is. This is
what grief is. This is what life is. When we are met by people
who are willing to turn one lap into 20, we are given
permission to confront the hard moments in life with openness.
May we embrace the difficult questions with our running shoes
laced up and a willingness to do as many laps as it takes. And
may we always be looking for the sacred spaces in our everyday
lives where God dwells in the ordinary moments and invites us
to join in with the divine for perhaps just one more lap.