Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Heart Thing

In the audiologist’s waiting area of the big VA hospital in Little Rock recently, I heard two elderly veterans discussing their heart by-pass surgeries in great detail. They told well-rehearsed and apparently oft-repeated stories about their trip to the hospital, the aides and nurses, the doctors, the anesthetist and other individuals associated with the process. What struck me most was their good humor and joyous delivery of the stories. The experience each shared brought roars of laughter from the other and a kind of camaraderie that I had not observed since my days long ago back in the barracks.

At first, I thought their mirth was brought on by a sense of relief that they had been through a trauma and survived. But the more I listened, the more I understood that there was much more than relief involved. The surgery experience had been life-changing for both of them.

One of the men said, “I’ll tell you one thing, when we get up there to Heaven and meet up with St. Peter, he’s not going to say you go over there if you are a Catholic, there if you are a Baptist, there if your skin is dark, there if it’s light. No, we are all in this thing together and we had better start treating each other that way.” The other veteran loudly affirmed the observation with an “Amen” and added a few insights of his own about the equality of all mankind in the sight of God. He then told a heartwarming story about the wonderful treatment he got from one of the aides of a complexion other than his own.

As I listened to the old soldiers, I thought of my father-in-law’s change of attitude after his by-pass surgery. He was eager to let everyone know the he had been wrong all his life about relationships with others. Like the veterans at the VA, he insisted on the equality of all people, always concluding with his conviction that, while man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.

Of course, as a Baptist minister, my father-in-law recounted the Bible story of Samuel the prophet looking to anoint a new king for Israel. Samuel thought some of Jesse’s son’s looked every inch a king and wanted to anoint the very first one that came before him, but God said no. Finally, when Jesse’s boys had passed before him, Samuel asked Jesse if he had any more sons. He said, just a young lad out taking care of the sheep. Call him here, Samuel requested, and Jesse sent for him. When little David showed up, looking nothing at all like a king should look, God told Samuel to anoint him King. Then, as my father-in-law loved recounting, God told Samuel that He always looks on the heart, nothing else.

Sometimes I’m glad about that. Sometimes I’m not. I’m glad God knows my heart when people misjudge me or ascribe motives to me that aren’t my motives. I’m not glad when I have something such as a grudge lodged in my craw.

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