See what's coming soon! Coming in October »

Jump directly to the content
magcover

Already a subscriber?

Home > Issues > 2009 > Summer > The 3:00 a.m. Phone Call

Remember that political ad in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. and someone has to answer? I know the experience. Sort of.

My phone call came late one afternoon. The caller, a church attendee I knew only casually, said he was at the hospital where his wife, Josie, was dying of cancer and might not last the night. Could I come right away?

Even though this call came many years ago, I'm still embarrassed when I remember that my first thought was something like: Where is our pastoral care staff person? I don't do hospitals. I'm the one who preaches, who leads, who casts vision. Oh, and I'm the one always telling people (from the pulpit) that I love them and care for them.

The caller said his dying wife was terrified. Despite the sedatives she'd been given, she was almost violent and could hardly be restrained. "Perhaps you can say something to her that will help her to relax and go to sleep," he said.

The hospital was a 20-minute drive. As I arrived, a family friend met me and escorted me to the room. On the way she described how Josie was thrashing about in fear. Occasionally she would scream. No one, the friend said, knew what to do. Even the doctors and nurses seemed stymied.

I took a deep breath and entered the room. There were maybe eight people around the bed: a doctor or two, nurses, Josie's husband and a daughter. Then I saw Josie in the bed.

"Josie!" I said as I approached. I said her name firmly, as if to establish my presence with some authority.

"Pastor Mac!" she responded. The circle broke as everyone stepped back to make room for me.

Frankly, I wasn't sure what was appropriate for the moment. It's awkward when even the physicians relinquish their space at the bedside to me. All I can remember is that something inside of me said, "Take charge; be a pastor!"

"Josie," I said, "this is a terrible moment for you, isn't it? You must be very frightened."

"Yes, Pastor Mac," Josie replied her eyes darting toward her husband and her daughter. "I don't know what to do. I can't leave them. I have to get better." Then she repeated, "I don't know what to do."

What she really wanted to do was sit up and get out of that bed. I sensed she was about to become agitated again, so I put my hands on her emaciated shoulders and, as gently as I could, pressed her back into the pillow. I remember the powerful silence in the room as everyone else looked on. No one objected to what I'd done so far. Perhaps they thought I knew exactly what I was doing.

I no longer believe the biblical title of pastor applies if it takes someone three weeks to get an appointment.

An idea came to me. I leaned closer so my face dominated Josie's line of sight, and said: "Josie, listen to me. Look into my eyes. I have a thought for you."

"Yes, Pastor Mac?"

"I want you to listen to some words from God. Just listen! Okay?"

"Okay."

I began, "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything that I need." I recited Psalm 23 slowly, deliberately, carefully pronouncing each word. Then, "Did you hear me, Josie? 'I'—that's you, Josie—'have … everything … that … I … need.'"

PreviousFirstPage 1 of 6NextLast

Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Related Topics:CaringDeathEmotionsPastoral CarePastor's Role
From Issue:iGens, Summer 2009 | Posted: August 10, 2009

Also in this Issue: Summer 2009

How Solitude Builds Community

An ancient monk's surprising role in bringing justice and healing to his neighbors.

Saved from SolitudeSubscriber Access Only

The community wins when churches work together.

Let the Little Children Come

These churches are learning to welcome children into their worship and mission.
Is the Era of Age Segmentation Over?

Is the Era of Age Segmentation Over?

A researcher argues that the future of youth ministry will require bringing the generations together.

Not a Subscriber?

Subscribe Today!

  • Monthly issues on web and iPad
  • Web exclusives and archives on Leadership Journal.net
  • Quarterly print issues

Print subscriber? Activate your online account for complete access.

Join the Conversation

Average User Rating: Not rated

Displaying 1–1 of 1 comments

indi indirah

October 05, 2014  2:25am

very well written. i have always been in awe of your Messages Pastor Gordon. i find your preaching, seminars very useable even though i am not american. there are some pastors that write stuff that one feels and knows this was certainly for an american audience. Your teachings are so easy to understand and relate too. Pastor Gordon and Lady Gail God bless you with many healthy years.

Report Abuse
Use your Leadership Journal login to easily comment and rate this article.
Not part of the community? Subscribe, or on public pages, register for a free account.
Reader's Pick
The Prayer-Centered Church

The Prayer-Centered ChurchSubscriber Access Only

What it takes to lead a prayerful community.
Sister Sites
Discipling in a Digital AgeBuilding Church Leaders

Discipling in a Digital Age