The story of the leper cleansed by Jesus is one that I can identify with all too well. Have you ever felt like you could identify with the leper in this story? Or maybe you feel like you can identify with Jesus himself. Sometimes I feel like I can identify with both. As a transplant patient with a complicated medical situation, I often have been in isolation myself in a hospital. Including contact precautions, meaning that anyone who walks into my room, family, friends, doctors, nurses, or even administrators must have a gown, gloves, and mask to enter. Not just for my safety, but theirs as well. It feels like I’m not allowed to have human contact, and it becomes very lonely all too often. It becomes a situation of trying to fight just for some human interaction. I have gotten to the point of leaving my door open, inviting them to at least wave or say hi.
On the other hand, sometimes I feel like Jesus, not to compare myself to him in his holy divine nature, but in his humanity. I often pass by other patients in similar situations in the hospital hall. At times we stop and talk, of course at a respectable distance. There are even times when nurses come into my room knowing that I have been through the wringer and sometimes open up about what they are dealing with and how they feel. Very rarely, but on the slightest occasion, a doctor or two will open up about their life, faith, or even the tears they have to fight back. Nowadays, with COVID running rampant through hospitals, hospital chaplains themselves find themselves in this predicament. Do I walk into a room that puts me at risk to offer the care that this patient so desperately needs, or do I stay at a distance and pray for them from afar?
I am so blessed that, thus far, for the most part, a majority of my chaplains or those in clinical pastoral education have decided that I’m worth seeing and worth taking the time to put on personal protective equipment and enter my room. It reminds me of a time when I was on the transplant floor and my surgeon saw that I was inpatient. I was not under his care at this point, but he said I am coming back for you, with a smirk on his face. Of course, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I had an idea that he was coming back to see me or say hi. And he did just that. He had gone to make his rounds to see other recently transplanted patients. Most of the time, he has most of the floor when he’s there. When he came back with students and residents, he had started gowning up when the others began gowning up as well. I heard one ask if this was a new patient. And he politely said no, this is an old patient and a social visit.
Of course, I had laughed when he said old patient, considering I had just turned 35, and of course, he was only referring to the fact that I was not recently transplanted but had been posttransplant at that point for years. He in his routine nature sat down next to me not to talk shop or medicine or the predicament that I was in at the moment, but to speak life. Treating me as just one more person that he would talk to as an acquaintance or friend. We talked about his busy work schedule, my busy school schedule, his kids, and what they were doing now. So often, I feel like people treat me like an untouchable. Due to having a multi-drug resistant Organism or MDRO, most people fear getting too close. Some have another fear of getting too close, thinking that if they make an attachment to me in an emotional sense that one day it will be broken when I’m gone.
I can only imagine how the leper felt that first time that he met Jesus and was finally clean from leprosy. The loneliness and pain he must have felt knowing that he was different. Maybe even feeling like there was nothing left for him to fight for in this world. I know I get incredibly excited when someone walks through that door that’s not there to draw labs, give medication, or resuscitate me. But, most of the time, just beautiful typical conversation leaves me with a very blessed feeling. This article is written on the national random act of kindness day. When I think of all the times that chaplains, current and former pastors, physicians and surgeons that still care, walk through those doors just to put a smile on my face, I get emotional and giddy! I think it’s an essential part of ministry to remember that we may not know the person’s whole story; we may not even know how they feel about their own story. But we have been blessed with is the opportunity to let others who feel excluded, isolated, maybe even forgotten about, connected and loved.
I invite you to think about when you could identify with the leper. Think about the times that life treated you with an unkind heart and maybe even left you needing human kindness more than ever. Also, think about the times that you could identify with Jesus. It is being the one who seeks out the ones counted out, even being shut out from the world. Life will present each of us with opportunities that will keep us seeking Jesus and trying to be more like Jesus, maybe even at the same time. Although none of us are guaranteed to walk this world unscathed, a bit of kindness and compassion to the modern-day leper can go a long way.
Sara Millard Distance Learning MA PCL seminary student. Pastoral Care Intern at First Presbyterian Church in Pueblo, Colorado. 4-time World Champion Pioneer Cart Shooter, 2-time kidney transplant recipient, and just happy to be here!