Hospitals and Altar Moments

This originally appeared as a weekly evo for Western Hills.

I don’t particularly enjoy hospitals. I think I can actually feel the germs crawl on me when I enter the hospital. Those little cans on the wall for hand sanitizer? I run from canister to canister, treating them like dispensers of hope. The foam reminds me of whip cream and instantly takes me to a happy place.

I’m also pretty much the world’s worst small-talker. I’m not anti-small-talk. I know that it is often necessary to go through the small-talk to get to the big stuff. I just wish I was better at it.

And then of course are the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. How many times have I heard the doctor’s report and just cringed, knowing there wasn’t a thing I could do for them?

All of this can make a trip to the hospital incredibly awkward and exhausting.

However, I’m pretty sure none of that really matters. I’m learning that whatever awkwardness I’m feeling, the folks I’m seeing are oblivious to. They are consumed by something much larger and more important at the moment: that huge STOP sign that life has just thrown in the middle of their world.

Cancer, surgery, sickness, pain, disease – it comes in many different names but with the same stunning result. It has the power to stop everything else that we THOUGHT was so important moments before. It can be the wake-up call for some, the valley of the shadow of death for others.

All of this can make a trip to the hospital an altar moment.

It doesn’t always happen this way, but sometimes that room becomes an altar. Not the false god/idol kind of altar but an Abraham kind of altar. A marker to remember the faithfulness of God. Could be a healing, could be a moment of insight and change. Could be a surrender point. I’ve seen it be a place of reconciliation for wounds long suffered. At times it’s a homecoming, the kind that those of us on earth have to mourn through.

A place of deep, profound worship
Ironically enough, these are the moments I enjoy. “Enjoy” isn’t exactly the word I’m looking for. The moment itself is normally not very fun or enjoyable at all. It does have profound meaning, though. Full of raw, unvarnished emotion and heart. There is no mask of “I’m okay” nor the comfortable distractions of grocery lists or bills or errands. It’s just them and God.

When I get to be in these moments, there is joy. Not the cheerleader, rah-rah joy. That’s not joy anyway. But a “in-the-now” sense of peace. Not that everything will be alright but that everything will be with Him.

It’s hard to explain, maybe impossible. But it’s real and probably it was that kind of experience that inspired David to write Psalm 34:18.

God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18


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