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Devotionals

The chaplains of Norton Healthcare write weekly devotions intended to inspire and uplift. We welcome you to read some of them below:

What does the Lord require of you?

Micah was a country prophet who lived more than 2,800 years ago, but his words speak volumes to us today. He lived in southwest Judah and prophesied during the time of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea. He spoke out against corruption and idol worship and predicted the eventual destruction of Jerusalem, not unlike other prophets of his time. Micah did, however, have a particularly interesting way with words.

In the sixth chapter of the Old Testament book that bears his name, we find the image of a lawsuit taking place in which God sues Israel for breach of covenant through their lack of justice and honesty. This breach is not just a one-time event; it has been the pattern kept by generations of Israel’s kings. As the trial continues, Micah voices the attitude of the people, who wonder what God expects from them:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7, NRSV)

With each word, Micah’s version of the people’s question becomes larger and more fantastic, leaving us to question whether Micah is exaggerating or being sarcastic. As the question rises in grandeur and intensity, we can also hear it getting louder and more strident. At its crescendo, the answer comes quietly, calmly and gently: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

They are simple words, but they take us a lifetime to live. We often get caught up in plans and systems designed to ensure us a prosperous and happy life, only to find that the only ones who end up prosperous and somewhat happy are the people who sold us the plan. If you asked me for a plan to bring a prosperous and happy life, my answer to you would sound a bit like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly; repeat.”

“I Once Was Lost”

Ann Weems, Presbyterian elder, lecturer, speaker and prolific poet, lost her son to sudden death when he was only 21 years old. She was a much-published poet at the time, her works often appearing in church liturgies, especially her poems centering on the Advent and Christmas season. When her son died, she felt neither hopeful anticipation nor joyous celebration. She was bereft. Encouraged by friends and professional colleagues to share her grief through her gift of poetry, she turned to the form of the lament psalm to find words to express her deep feelings of loss. She titled her work Psalms of Lament. Here’s the one she called Lament Psalm 36:

            O God, help me get home!                   O God, find me!
            I am lost                                               Do not sleep
            In the forest of fear.                            Until I am safely back
            I have no map                                      by your fireside,
            Except the memory                              for I shake night and day
            Of your word                                       with no defense
            Captive to my fear                               against the cold,                                  
            I am frozen                                          pelting pain…
            In my anguish,
            Afraid to move                                    Find me, O caring God
            In any direction.                                  Before night falls
            Which way, O God                              because I have no light.
            Which way                                          Take up your lantern
            Which way leads back home?             And look for me…

How often we have felt the kind of “lostness” Ann Weems’ words describe? This feeling may be like hers, the loss of a loved one; it may be another kind of tragic loss — a marriage, a home, a job … a loss that makes us cry out, “O God, help me get home! I am lost.” Her words give our feelings words because they speak unapologetically about the deep pain of loss. She names her lostness; she implores God to find her and then concludes,

I will nestle in the hope of your coming
You will find me and carry me to the path
That leads home. I will no longer fear, for you,
O God, you are my home!

From her cries of lament emerge her statement of faith and hope. She believes ultimately that a warm fireside does exist and that God somehow will find her and put her on the path to that welcoming hearth. That she feels lost and can cry out about it brings her around to hope in being found. May we write our own lament psalms when we need to and know the ultimate assurance that they are heard. May we find comfort in a God that does not sleep until we are found. Amen

Why?

Why? If that simple one-word question has been asked in a hospital, once, it’s been asked a thousand times. Often that statement is followed by, “But I know you’re not supposed to question God.” Huh, really? I am not so sure about that.

“Why?” is not only a question for hospitals, it’s also a question for children. According to experts, during an early stage of development, around 2 years old, children learn a series of why, how and what questions. Children can drive an attentive adult crazy with unrelenting questions. Eventually, those one-word questions morph into two-word phrases such as why not and how come. Their questions are related to genuine inquiry but also related to the new language they are learning. Sometimes they just need to ask and the answer doesn’t even really matter very much. I know that because I have answered those two-year-old questions in very adult profound ways, and my children, when they were that age, didn’t appreciate my profundity. I know, because they just kept asking, why, how come, why not, over and over again.

Eventually, as my children got older and their questions got longer and my answers less convincing, I caved in. No, I didn’t cave in and give good answers; I caved in and did what my dad said. “Don’t ask me why; just do what you were told.” I then remembered something else my Dad said. If you are asking a question in a quest for knowledge or wisdom, ask away. However, if you are questioning me to decide whether to obey, it’s not OK. As a teenager my questions were often a premise for disobedience.

The Bible is loaded with whys, and according to the English New International Version, there are 33 whys in the Psalms alone. Questions such as “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? Why have you rejected me?” These questions are directed at God, so if we are not supposed to question God, someone forget to tell the psalmist. However, just as it is for children, our questions just might be an exercise of our language. We may not need or understand answers; we just need to express our confusion. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” To feel forsaken necessarily demands a questioning “why.”

Why then do we feel so guilty for questioning God? I suspect we hear the scolding of our parents, teachers, coaches, etc., when they said, “Don’t ask questions; do what you’re told.” They were probably right because we were trying to decide our course of limited obedience. However, that is not God’s response to the hurting soul caught in a tangled web of pain, confusion and despair. The psalmist gives us a model for appropriate questioning as an exercise of our faith language in an attempt to touch a God that we are struggling to find. Those why, how or where questions are an expression of faith, not questions of skeptics or disobedience. They are questions that reach out to God, and any reach for God is an expression of faith.

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