There is a fine line between a merry heart which is like a continual feast and folly which is like scratching your fingernails on a chalkboard. Part of growing into manhood is discerning that subtle difference.
When I was a young associate pastor I was assigned to call on one of our widows to pray with her and encourage her before she went into surgery early one morning. I drove across town to the hospital while the sky was blushing with the first light of morning. When I stepped off the elevator on her floor I could tell immediately something was wrong. I did not need to ask directions to her room. Everyone within a six blocks of the hospital could hear her screaming.
This sister was a faithful member of our church family and very dear to all of us but not because of her intelligence. She did not endear his with her cultural refinement nor was she possessed with even primary social graces.
It sounded like she was being systematically tortured. “Help me! Get her away from me. Stop her. Get me out of here right now. I want to go home. I’m going to sue you for everything you are worth.” I followed the chilling screams to her room. On the way thinking “Maybe I can say something to calm her down.” When I rounded the corner into her room I could tell they were having trouble getting the IV into place. I thought a little humor would lighten the atmosphere and said, “Hey, Mary. What are they doin’? Are they usin’ you for a pin-cushion?”
It was precisely the wrong thing to say at precisely the wrong time. Each of the nurses on the floor had done their best to get the IV into Mary’s arm while she thrashed about and threatened them with dark and violent imprecations.
Finally they had summoned the charge nurse, a no-nonsense woman who could have successfully worked second shift as a bouncer at any dive in town. She was not even mildly amused at my attempt at humor and snapped, “Who are you?”
“I’m Mary’s pastor,” I said, trying to salvage a bit of ecclesiastical dignity.
“Well, Pastor,” she snapped, “Why don’t you wait in the hall until we get this IV in and then you can see her.”
My face flushed red and I retreated out into the hall. “Maybe it was my timing,” I thought.
It wasn’t my last lesson in the difference between the good medicine of humor and the irritant of folly, but it was a memorable one. I still aspire to master the difference before I grow old and I’m dismissed as a silly old man, needling people with my misplaced wit. Sometimes I think the last thing I will hear in this world will be my wife’s exasperated voice saying, “Ken, that wasn’t funny.”
Riverfront Character Inn
September 7, 2005