The Broken Man

This is why I go to church.

I have been thinking lately about this scripture:

Proverbs 3: 5-6

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

What does it mean to have this kind of constant trust and dependence on the Lord?

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to spend an hour with a man I’ve known for several years. It was a quiet hour without a lot of interaction, but it touched me deeply.

Each year the little children aged 3 to 10 present a Sunday program where they sing and share short messages with the congregation.  It is one of the best Sundays of the year because we get to feel of the children’s innocent, sincere faith.  My friend and his wife have faithfully taught a group of these little ones every Sunday for as long as I can remember.

After getting my own children situated for one of their last practices, I found my friend sitting by himself in the chapel pews watching while his wife and the children settled in the choir seats behind the podium. He struggled to speak, but greeted me with a warm smile and handshake.

I met this man several years ago when he was early on in his battle with Alzheimer’s. The effects of the disease are more apparent now. He becomes easily disoriented and confused, and has a difficult time carrying on a conversation.

No one asked me to sit with him or expected it of me. His wife had placed him there within view so she could keep an eye on him while attending to the children. Initially I was planning to go to Sunday school and listen to a well prepared lesson from the New Testament, but when I shook his hand, something inside told me to stay.

The children began their practice with a song. He became excited at the singing and smiled while humming the tune. At the end of the song he leaned forward and pointed directly at his wife.  She didn’t see him immediately so he waited a minute then pointed again.  She finally saw him and returned his pointing with a smile and curt wave. Beaming from ear to ear he tapped me on the shoulder and said: “Do you know her? She’s my wife. She smiled at me.”

I told him I did know her and that she is a wonderful woman.  He smiled again and looked up at her repeating, “she is wonderful.  She’s my wife.”

As the hour went on the pattern continued.  He hummed along with the songs and made comments about how energetic and excited the children were.  Then he pointed again. Each time she smiled back and waved he proudly proclaimed that she was his wife.

At one point he struggled to ask me for directions to the bathroom.  I tried to point out the way but he was confused, so I got up and led him out of the room.  His wife stayed seated but was looking at me intently. I could see the concern on her face, a concern that has come from countless hours of worry for him.

I made a gesture to reassure her that he was OK and waited for him to come out to make sure he found his way back.  He was agitated as we took our seats and struggled for a minute to find his wife. I could see panic in his eyes until finally, with a sigh of relief, he pointed and said, “there she is, there’s my wife.” With that knowledge he settled down and was able to enjoy the singing once again.

The hour came to and end and I had to say goodbye. As I thought about it, I am sure I could have learned something wonderful from the Sunday school class but instead, I was taught by this broken man. Barely able to have a conversation, and unable to find his own way anymore, he found comfort in his wife’s smile. As long as he knew she was there he could enjoy what was going on around him. I can’t imagine a better example of complete trust and dependence.

Because of this disease he will never know what that moment meant to me and I’ll never be able to share that with him.  His wife will continue to struggle and make hard decisions, maybe even wondering if it is OK to bring him to church as often as she does.  I hope she keeps bringing him because everyone there can learn something from this broken man.

The truth is we are all broken in one way or another. For some of us, like my friend, the wounds are obvious. For others they run deep inside the hidden crevices of our souls. God uses broken, imperfect people to help His broken, imperfect children.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

“The Church is not just for perfect people, but it is for all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.”The Church is for people like you and me. The Church is a place of welcoming and nurturing, not of separating or criticizing. It is a place where we reach out to encourage, uplift, and sustain one another as we pursue our individual search for divine truth.”

The most important lesson I learned this past Sunday did not come from the pulpit or an eloquently prepared lesson. It certainly did not come from the example of someone near perfection. It came from one of the weakest and most humble. It came from a man who is painfully succumbing to the grips of a disease that will never let him go. But even in this state, there is something all of us can learn from having him around at church. I am just grateful God opened my eyes to see His divine truth in the form of a quiet, broken man and his precious wife.

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2 thoughts on “The Broken Man

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