"CHAPLAIN, A CPR PATIENT IS coming in by ambulance in two minutes. The paramedics say it doesn't look good," the charge nurse told me.
My stomach tightened as I braced for the drama that was to unfold. The ER team had already gowned and gloved, and they waited in uneasy silence in the trauma room. I scarcely had time to utter a silent prayer before the fire department paramedics burst through the double doors. One was doing chest compressions as the other gave oxygen to the patient and wheeled the gurney into the trauma room. The patient was in his forties.
I gained eye contact with the physician running the code. "Doctor Pierson, I'll wait with the patient's wife in the family room until you get free to give her an update."
"Thanks, chaplain. It looks bad; I may be awhile." Alarm bells from the heart monitor warned that the patient's life signs were unstable.
I hurried to the family room, unlocked it, and entered. In the privacy there I called on God: "Gracious Father, if it be your will, please preserve the life of this patient. Give wisdom to the medical team and a safe journey for any family members who come to the hospital. May You be glorified in all that happens here today."
The triage nurse knocked, then escorted the patient's wife, Karen, into the family room. Karen was sobbing uncontrollably. As she had no family or minister close at hand, we sat alone in the tension-filled minutes prior to the doctor's arrival. I helped her contact her husband's parents in Florida, then prayed again, this time with her, placing the tenuous situation in God's capable hands.
The doctor arrived shortly thereafter, but the expression on her face told me the news was bad. She looked at Karen. "I'm sorry to tell you this. We tried everything but there was nothing we could do to get his heart rate back. Your husband died."
Karen's grief exploded. "Oh, Clifton, Clifton! I have nobody. Please don't leave me. I don't know what to do!" She buried her head in the couch.
In the few sad hours that followed I drew on and tried to model the lovingkindness and compassionate mercy that God requires of all His people (Mic. 6:7–9). And a key passage in the Book of James took on new meaning that day: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:28).
After escorting the widow to the trauma room to see her husband, I heard a staff member whisper, "Chaplain, I couldn't do what you do."
"Believe me, it never gets any easier," I said. (And I couldn't do it, either, without help.)
At Clifton's funeral a few days later, I stressed the theme of God's love and its appropriation in Psalm 103:15–17. "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children."
The outline in this passage is simple, yet powerful: Our lives are temporary, but God's loyal love is eternal.
God demonstrated His eternal love by sending His own Son Jesus (in the prime of His life) to die for our sins (John 3:16). And because of that love shown to us, we have both the example and the supernatural enablement to extend it to others. And through His power we can do so even in the hardest of times, when faced with unspeakable pain.
God's loyal love forgives sins and will one day wipe away every tear and right every wrong. His loyal love will abolish death. His loyal love furnishes a home in heaven "from everlasting to everlasting" for those who trust in Him.
Our lives are fragile and painfully brief, as world events have so graphically reminded us in the past few months, but the story need not end at the grave and at the judgment to come. By faith we live in the comfort of knowing that God's love is eternal, and nothing can separate us from it (Rom. 8:38–39).
Many factors make the missionary service of hospital chaplaincy enjoyable. However, during the tough times, such as offering a widow in distress the mercy of God, I ask, "Why do I do this?" Second Corinthians 5:13–15 answers it best in stressing the loyal love of Christ: "For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf" (NASB).
We love because we have been and always will be loved.