Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJV) (Ps. 23 : 4)
“It was a poisoned mushroom.” The doctor said after he examined Lawrence. He looked into his eyes and shone a light at the undilated pupil. He listened to his lungs using the sethetescope and looked at his chest as it moves during his laborious breathing.
“Let us wait for the toxicology report from the blood samples we took” He announced. “Perhaps after that we should be able to know more” “He said as he left the room.
Lawrence was a very good friend of mine. He had gone out after work with a group of friends and called to offer his regrets for not keeping our tennis date. When I called back that evening to check on how his day went, he did not answer his phone. The sister called me and sounded frantic around 10 PM. Lawrence was found unconscious and was rushed to the hospital. She did not know if he will make it. As I hurried to get dressed and go to the hospital, I told my wife about the sad story and she offered to go with me.
“What about the children?” I asked absent-mindedly.
“I will call Christy to come over” she replied as she looked in the closet to throw on a pair of jeans. Christy was James and Jill Delison’s daughter who lived next door. She was the boys’ babysitter since they were toddlers. With a quick phone call to the Delisons, Christy said we could drop off the boys and so we hurried and dropped them off before driving to the hospital. There were a few people in the hallway and in the waiting area of the hospital room when we arrived. We walked into the room where our friend was, despite the objection of the receptionist who ironically pointed out the room but protested that there were too many people already.
No one knew the facts of the case except that the neighbors reported that he came home to the apartment complex and walked with some difficulty into his apartment. When he did not answer his phone after repeated calls from his sister, she asked a friend in the apartment complex to check on him. Luckily, his doors were unlocked and she peeped in to see him on the floor unresponsive and so she called the emergency number for an ambulance. At the hospital there was nothing to do but wait. Friends and relatives hardly said anything to each other except to simply said “hi” or “how are you”? This was not a time to talk or exchange pleasantries. What was heavy in the minds of us all was whether Lawrence will make it. Some needed tissues and so they stood with eyes red and wiped their tears. Others wandered to the waiting area on the floor and simply sat and stared on the man on the television screen saying something about Iraq. Yet no one paid attention. The battle in Iraq was one we could understand, but the battle that Lawrence was facing alone in that hospital bed was what we could not understand .My wife and I stood outside the room in the hallway holding each other’s hand as the evening hours ticked off.
“Let us go to the waiting area” I suggested without knowing why we were waiting and how long we were waiting.
We walked to the waiting area and sat on a love seat. There was a Bible on the lamp stand and in those moments of fear and anxiety, I opened to the 23rd Psalm and read it to myself first and then shared it with my wife. We had heard the Psalm so many times, but the words of the Psalmist this time was very significant and very comforting. I could see the image of a shepherd leading the sheep. The care of the shepherd is listed. First there is not a lack, nothing is needed and all of our supplies are provided. I thought about all the things that the sheep will need: Protection, food, water, a sense of belonging and even life itself, the shepherd will provide. The Psalmist is speaking as the sheep and is very confident with the ability of the shepherd to provide for the sheep against a world of want and lack.
The shepherd further leads the sheep to lie in green pastures. Rest, succor and comfort are provided. Not just any kind of rest but one close to where there is sustenance “in green pastures”. When sustenance and food have been provided, the kind shepherd leads the sheep not just to any water, but one that is quiet. It is one that is peaceful and one that harbors no danger to the sheep. With food in the green pastures and water from the quiet stream, the soul is restored. With the physical body fed and nourished, the psychological and the spiritual needs are taken care of next. The Hebrew word is Yeshoveiv, meaning not only restoration, but one through repentance (teshuvah) and therefore the sheep is reconciled to the shepherd. One is reminded of Maud Booth in 1896 as they worked in what became known as the Salvation Army when she declared that preaching to the homeless makes a mockery of the Gospel if they could not offer the homeless something that they desperately needed. The Shepherd guides the sheep in the paths of righteousness and the sheep is constantly reminded of the name of this good shepherd such that even though the sheep may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear of evil will be the last thing on the minds of those who are under the care of the shepherd.
Lawrence was certainly walking through the valley of the shadow of death. His breathing was becoming shallow. He was not opening his eyes and did not respond to commands; because he was struggling to breathe he had to be put on a respirator. Did we fear evil at that time as we waited in the hospital? I did not know but I was not ready to say that all would be well. Yet our continued stay meant nothing and the children had to get ready for their day the next morning and so my wife and I agreed that we needed to return home so Christy could get ready for school and the kids could go to bed. I went to Darlene, Lawrence’s sister, and thanked her for getting her friend to check on the brother. I told her we needed to return and care for the boys and then I asked her to call me if she needed anything. As we walked away to the car in the hospital parking structure, I wondered what was going to happen but quickly and quietly returned to the words of the Psalmist, “Even though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
It has been years since this event at the hospital. Lawrence recovered and returned to work. Today he is healthy and raising his children. We talked about his near-death experience and he said that he was not afraid and had no recollections of what happened in the hospital in those dark moments. Ironically, it is now that he gets afraid but did not fear anything when he was unconscious.
I think the words of the psalmist are very significant here and I wonder how many of us take the time to fully reflect on what they mean. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps. 23 : 4). The shepherd's rod and staff , one use for correction and the other use to guide the sheep, all comforts the sheep. Whether in difficult situations or at pleasure, our shepherd use all situations for our own guidance and comfort.
In our darkest night, when situations border on the shades of death, in our darkest hour when all help and comfort seems to flee, it is comforting to know that our weary and wandering spirit finds solace in the God of our salvation. Yes, no matter where life’s tumultuous and uncertain journey leads, no matter what you may experience, surely, goodness and mercy will find you always through him who is our Shepherd. Amen.