The Empty Chair

empty chair

photo credit: concordpastor@blogspot.com

“For the happy man prayer is only a jumble of words, until the day when sorrow comes to explain to him the sublime language by means of which he speaks to God.” 
― Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo

I have not always been a follower of Jesus Christ, though I have always been around “religion” and can say I never doubted the existence of God.   However, one of the things that used to really intimidate me was prayer.

The priest or pastor seemed to have it right, and could recite these long, incantations with special holy buzz words that seemed to unlock the mysteries of the universe via God.  I didn’t know the “formula” so my prayers, if I had them, were the learned thanks over the meal or the “now I lay me” type that a child prays before bed. They were anemic at best.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I met Jesus Christ.  Early in my faith, all my incorrect assumptions of prayer still clung to me…and after a lifetime of hearing lofty speeches said over the pulpit I was a little intimidated.  Then one day I heard this story, which I will retell to you.  It is as clear and simple and pure as a warm sunny room.  This is what prayer is.  As I have matured in my walk, now I understand.  Prayer is a conversation with the One who knows me best, loves me best and forgives me always.  Jesus spent hours in quiet meditation with the Father, and was strengthened for it.  Prayer.  Now I know that it is yet another one of God’s gifts to us… and I can say, Amen to that.  Hope you enjoy the story.

As the man lay in the hospital, he knew he was dying from the cancer.  There was no one to really care though.  He and his wife had been divorced for many years and she was dead anyway.  Their one child, a daughter, was estranged from him now.  He sat quietly, lost in the pain of his regrets.  His only company was the occasional doctor or nurse who would come in and check on him; always leaving with a dark countenance because they knew his time was close…they could not save him.  One morning a new nurse came in.  She was different, and she wanted to chat with him.  

“Mr. Thomas, I am Susan.  The doctor has asked me to visit you today as he has noticed that you are very sad.  I work at the local hospice and I thought you might want some company.  Is there anyone I can call for you who should know you are here”? 

Though Susan didn’t know it, Mr. Thomas appreciated her efforts, but he just shook his head anyway.  He responded, “No, there is no one. My daughter, Jenny, moved out of state when she left college…and she wouldn’t come any way.” 

“Well, perhaps I could call your pastor or priest then”?  Susan queried.  

“Oh no, no, that wouldn’t do.  I haven’t been in a church for more than 30 years”, he answered. 

“I used to go, when I was married, just to please my wife.  It seemed important to her, but I just didn’t want to be there with all those do-gooders and hypocrites.  Those god-chasers just seemed like a bunch of fakes to me – sounding off with all their highfalutin words…” 

Susan understood, she had known this attitude in so many people.  If only he knew, she thought, the real story.  She too used to judge Jesus by the people who supposedly followed Him.  It was only when she met Him personally that she came to understand that Jesus loved those people and her anyway, and came to this earth to show them a better way of living, through Him, not of themselves. 

“Well, Mr. Thomas, I understand, would you like for me to just sit here and chat with your for awhile then?”  

 “No, it is fine.  I know you are busy, you go on.”  he said.

 Susan responded, “Well, I will check in on you, if you don’t mind every now and then.” 

“Do what you want,” he replied, ” I won’t pay no mind.” 

It went that way for weeks, with Susan coming every few days to see Mr. Thomas, and him rebuffing her efforts.  Then one day, Susan was in the hospital and ran into Mr. Thomas’ doctor.  She asked about him and the doctor told her his “time” was getting very close, only a few days.  “If he has someone you should call, or maybe a priest for last rites of something, now is the time to do so,” the doctor told her. 

Susan was very concerned now, and went into full search mode to find Mr. Thomas’ daughter Jenny.   She had learned from Mr. Thomas that Jenny grew up locally.  Susan had too, so she started asking around if anyone had known her. As luck would have it, one of the nurses who worked at the hospital had gone to high school with Jenny.  She told Susan she had married and moved away.  That is all the info Susan needed.  It was only a few hours searching on the internet, and Susan found Jenny and called her. 

“Jenny, my name is Susan, I work at the local hospice here in town.  I wanted to let you know that your father is here in the hospital.  I have been assigned to him.  He is quite ill and you may want to come see him before he is no longer with us.”  

Jenny was shocked and a flood of mixed emotions churned through her.  This was an answer to her prayer, as she had recently given her life to Jesus Christ and was trying to move past the hurt of her childhood, her parent’s broken marriage and the absence of her father in her life.  She knew she had to make things right with him, but did not know how to start. 

“Of course I will come,” Jenny said to Susan.  ” I can be there by the weekend, I need to work out logistics here at home for my family. Please don’t tell him I am coming.  I want it to be a surprise.” 

Susan agreed and hung up the phone.  She was worried though, as she had seen Mr. Thomas the other day and was not sure if he would make it to the weekend.  On a spur of the moment decision, Susan made another phone call and called the local parish. She explained to Father Anthony the situation and he came right away. 

Father Anthony knocked on the door of Mr. Thomas’ room and heard nothing.

He peeked through the window and saw what appeared to be a very old man, gray faced and gaunt, sleeping.  He gently let himself in to the room.  Mr. Thomas heard him. 

“Mr. Thomas, I am Father Anthony” he said.  Nurse Susan suggested I come to see you.” 

Mr. Thomas opened his eyes and glared at the priest.  “What are you doing here?” he demanded. 

Father Anthony replied, “I came to visit with you.  I though it might be helpful to come speak with you about your future…. I uh, wanted to make sure that when it is time for you to leave this earth, that you have made it right with God, and had the chance to repent of your sins.  Would you like me to pray with you?” 

Mr. Thomas bristled.  “I already told that nurse I don’t pray, don’t know how to and don’t want to. There is no use, your God don’t want me anyway, I have done no good to just about every body I ever known.”   

Father Anthony shook his head and said, “I understand, perhaps I can just leave you a few things to read then, and I will come back to see you in a few days.” 

The priest went out of the room and came back with two books; one written about prayer and one about the catechism. He laid them on the table next to Mr. Thomas bed.

The next day, Mr. Thomas took a turn for the worse, and the nurses called Susan. They feared he would not make it until the end of the week, when Jenny was to come. 

Susan called Father Anthony again to meet her at the hospital.  She had to leave a message, as he was out.  Before she left, she took the time to call Jenny, who lived 6 hours away, to come now.  Susan said a silent prayer that Jenny would be able to get there in time.  Jenny took the call and said she would try.

Susan arrived at the hospital a little later than she had planned, as traffic was horrible in the pre-Christmas rush.  When she got there, there was someone already in Mr. Thomas’ room, so she waited outside.

******************************************************************

When Father Gabriel had tapped on the door, there was no response so he went in.  Mr. Thomas lay there, raggedly breathing, staring into space.  

“Mr. Thomas” he said, my name is Gabriel.  I thought I would come visit you today and see how you were doing.  Do you mind if I sit down and chat for awhile?”  

“Do what you want,” Mr. Thomas replied.  “There’s no chair here anyway.”

 Father Gabriel noticed, so he stood at the end of the bed, and spoke to Mr. Thomas.  

 “Sir”, he started, “I came to see you at Father Anthony’s request.  He thought you might want to pray with me before receiving last rites.”  

Mr. Thomas grumbled. “Yeah, I know, that priest was here.  He left me a some books to read.  I tried to read them – the prayer book had so many big words in them, I gave up and put it away.” 

“Would you like to pray with me, Mr. Thomas”?  Gabriel asked.

“I don’t know how to pray, I can’t say all those big words or flowery verses.” responded Mr. Thomas “…and I am not even Catholic.”  

Mr. Thomas, do you believe in God?  the priest asked.  

He nodded yes.

“Well, then lets start from there”, said the priest.  “Do you know about Jesus Christ, his Son”?  

The old man nodded and said, “Well, I heard about Him when I used to go to church with my wife.  They said he died for our sins, and I just couldn’t accept that, because if He knew me, no one would die for mine.  I don’t deserve for someone else to pay for my mistakes.  I could never understand that.”

“Well sir, that is the gift and the mystery of God.  He knows we don’t deserve for someone to do that, but he loves us anyway, because He created us.  He loves us enough to wrap himself in human flesh and come to earth to walk with us, teach us and ultimately, allow himself to be sacrificed for us on the cross as payment of man’s sins.  You don’t have to be good enough because none of us are.”

“Would you like to pray with me, and ask for God to forgive you?  He will you know, if you mean it.  He will wash it all away.” Father Gabriel said. 

“I told you, I don’t know how to pray.  Can’t use all those fancy words. Anyway, no God could love me like that,” he said.  You don’t know what I have done.  Go on out now, you have done your good deed for the day.”  Mr. Thomas retorted.

“Well”, Father Gabriel said, “I will go, but I want you to know something, prayer isn’t some formula filled with fancy words, it is just a conversation with Jesus.  All it takes is your desire to seek Him and give your heart to Him.  He will do the rest.  Jesus is a gentleman, He won’t force himself on you, but He does want to have a relationship with you, but He leaves it up to us.  That is why we have free will.”

“I will be back, Mr. Thomas, in the meantime, I will ask the hospital to put a chair in here next to your bed…maybe while I am gone you can just imagine Jesus is sitting in the chair, and you and He can have a good conversation before you go,”  and Father Gabriel left.

 *****************************************************************

 The sun was barely risen when Jenny finally arrived to the hospital the next day.  It was too early to call Susan to tell her to meet her, so she decided to go in and see her dad, even if he was just sleeping.  She checked in with the nurse and was shown to his room.  When she walked in, she was stunned.  As there was her father, half way leaning out of bed, laying across the wooden chair next to his bed.  He was dead….but he had the sweetest look of peace and joy on his face.  She wasn’t sure what to think of it.  She just stood there, confused.

 She heard someone behind her walk in and clear his throat.  She turned around startled.  There was Father Gabriel.   

“Hello you must be Jenny,” he introduced himself.  “I was up for morning prayers and felt a prodding to come check on your father.  Now I see why.” 

“I don’t understand,” said Jenny, why he is halfway out of the bed.  He could have fallen!” she said in angst.

“Oh no, no reason to worry Jenny”, said Gabriel.  “Your father died just a he should have, he died in the arms of Jesus.  That is why he is laying across the chair”.

Once Father Gabriel explained the events of the day before, Jenny understood.  With tears in her eyes she marveled at how good God was.  He not only answered her father’s prayers, but He answered her own.  Her heart was flooded with forgiveness and peace and wonder at how loving her Savior, her father’s Savior is.

John 6:37-39
37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
John 10:27-28
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Matthew 11:28-30
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Isaiah 26:12
12 Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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