I worked for 20 years as a parish nurse. In fact, for most of that time, I was the parish nurse at the United Church of Christ national offices in Cleveland. During that time, I did countless blood pressure screenings, cholesterol screenings, flu shots, health fairs, and health programs. And of course, I met with folks individually to help them understand confusing blood work or a procedure that was coming up. But, I also listened.
I listened as I heard of upcoming chemotherapy or surgery. I listened as I heard of bottomless grief for the loss of a child or spouse. I listened as I heard of the shock of being left by a spouse. I listened to so many stories of sadness and pain. As a nurse, I could give helpful information on a certain medication or refer someone to a grief support group, or go with someone to their doctor appointment, but when I had exhausted all the tools in my nursing bag, I would look at this hurting scared person and want to do more. Of course, I couldn’t take their situation away. That journey was theirs to walk. However, I realized I could give them a place to stand.
I began to carry a little velvet pouch that held small stones inside. The stones were just regular stones, but all were smooth. After I listened, offered whatever help I could, and prayed with the hurting person, I would bring out my velvet bag, open it and pour out the stones. I would tell them to pick one they liked. It always made me smile at how carefully and thoughtfully each person picked their special stone.
I then told them to put the small stone someplace close by – a purse, or a desk or a nightstand. I told them that this stone would be a place to stand. When the world is a dark and scary place, and when the wind is howling and the water is rising, we need to stand on something solid. We need to stand on something we can count on.
Rocks of Courage
The Bible has many images of stones and rocks to give us courage. Moses ushers water out of a rock to quench the thirst of the Israelites. Jesus tells Peter (whose name means rock in Greek), “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.” Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress….”
And then there is the story of David and Goliath. Young David is the only one to stand against the giant Goliath. None of the full grown men who were trained as soldiers would face Goliath. It took this kid with no battle experience to face this fierce enemy. David stands firm and looks this frightening giant in the face. With supreme confidence David says, “The whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel…. The battle belongs to God….! “ (1 Samuel 17: 47).
It was my hope that the small smooth stone I gave each hurting person would help them to stand firmly on the rock of God and look the Goliath of cancer and the Goliath of grief and the Goliath of despair directly in the face and do what David did. He slew his Goliath with a slingshot and 5 smooth stones.