james ray johnson
“Thank you for being with me!” Those words raised chill bumps – more than the pot of ice water in which my hand was submersed. Let me explain.
My youngest son and I were baking as we sat on an asphalt driveway in the middle of a sweltering Texas summer. I don’t know if I lost my mind before the decision, or sometime during, but there we were.
Our mission was to chisel out the crumbling portions and patch it. Maybe I should have hired it out, but I am kinda tight. How tight you ask? When I grab a dollar bill, George Washington screams.
Anyway, there we were, chipping away when there arose such a clatter I sprang from my squat to see what was the matter. He crushed his thumb with the hammer.
He was in prodigious pain. He was still a little guy, so he wasn’t much for hiding his hurts. He jumped up and down, cradling his thumb while the tears gushed. I sensed that it was time for some fatherly comfort, so I firmly said, “Go in the house and put some ice on it.”
He stumbled in, but his anguish still echoed from the kitchen. He has always dreaded the pain of the cold ice more than the pain of his injury. He might need some help.
I found him sitting on the tile floor, still sobbing so I made an icepack and tried to force it on him. I’ve had greater success bathing a cat.
Plan B. I got a cooking pot, filled it with water and topped it off with ice. I then took his hand in mine and submerged them both in the water.
He squirmed and fought me at first but then began to relax. His pain was easing. We sat without a word with icy hands for 10 minutes. That’s when he finally broke the silence to say, “Thank you for being with me!”
My turn to cry! I choked up when I understood that what he wanted and needed from me – was not a lesson or an icepack – just a little empathy. He needed me to be with him in his pain.
I was a decent dad, but I wasn’t very good at that. And yet it was something that I also longed for as a kid. I remember my dad handing me a paint scraper with a mandate to remove the chipped paint on the house so that he could repaint it on the weekend.
It was a two-story frame house. There was more area to scrape than the Great Wall of China. I was overwhelmed. Day after day I chipped away, while desperately wishing that someone would join me. But a real man didn’t need such things – or so I thought – or so I was told.
Jesus thought differently. Joseph of Nazareth encountered an angel in a dream who said to him, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) -NET Bible®
God with us! Jesus was named “God with us” – not God for us, or behind us, or beyond, or before us – but “God with us.” In our brokenness, we must have needs that only His presence with us can begin to address.
John wrote of Jesus, “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.” (John 1:14). -NET Bible® Eternal God added flesh to His being. Why flesh? In part, so that He might take up His residence among us. He really wanted to be God with us.
Solitary confinement was pioneered in 1829 at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Charles Dickens visited the facility during his travels. He described the “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body”
If the worst thing we can do to a person is to isolate them, then perhaps the best and most basic thing we can do is to be with them.
My son’s words were more bracing to me than the icy water that numbed my hand. He helped me see that my presence is a priceless gift that I can give to him and others.
Ironically, these days I serve as a Hospice Chaplain. I visit those who have been given no medical hope of recovery. Their days are few. A nurse keeps them comfortable, an aide keeps them clean, but I offer them my company.
We talk, read the Scripture, I’ll sing them a hymn or two, maybe make them laugh and of course I pray – and if it’s ever needed – I’ll grab another pot of ice water and we’ll soak together.