Even though Bernie’s secretary, Dorothy Patel, was a proper English woman, she insisted on being called Dot or Dotty. Dot was a formidable gatekeeper who knew that her boss did not like to be buzzed when there was a phone call or some other need requiring her attention. Bernie was usually researching and thinking about a homily or drafting a letter or report, and she didn’t like having her concentration interrupted by a buzzer—so her phone lit up with a red light when her secretary needed to talk to her.
“What’s up, Dotty?” Bernie asked, after noticing the red light on her phone.
“Karl Thompson is here to see you.”
“Oh, right. He said he would be by today. I’ll be right out.”
She ushered Karl into her office and gestured to the comfortable, upholstered chair in front of her desk. The chair had a small pillow with a dove appliqued on it; a gift from a former parishioner.
Bernie made it a point of providing comfortable chairs for visitors to her office. Her callers were almost always hurting for one or more of dozens of reasons, and she wanted to do whatever she could to put them at ease. She had learned the Christian virtue of hospitality from her mother and her aunt.
Molly moved from her bed in the corner of the office, sat next to Karl’s feet, and looked up at him with her warm brown, understanding eyes.
Karl reached down and scratched her behind the ears. “Good girl, Molly. Good girl.”
“Would you like a cup of tea or coffee, Karl?”
Karl nodded, “Black coffee would be great, thanks.”
Bernie tapped a few keys on her computer. “Dot will see to it.”
“How can I help, you, Karl?” Bernie inquired after a moment.
Looking at his hands in his lap, Karl hesitated, then looked up at Bernie.
“An issue has come up—rather it’s a long-standing problem . . . ” he started.
“Ginny and I are both involved, but she is dealing with it better than I am. We’re just not ready to share it with anyone else . . . just yet. She has been a great support for me. Her faith is rock solid.
I guess that’s actually part of my problem. I’ve been praying about this for weeks, but I’m not getting anywhere. God doesn’t seem to be listening to me. Where is he when I need him the most?”
He opened his hands to express his frustration. “I just feel empty and alone. Where is God and why would he desert me now when I really need him?
Anyway, I’m in a quandary. I need God’s guidance in the coming weeks. Ginny suggested that perhaps you could help.”
He stopped when he heard a knock at the door.
Dot entered the office, placing a mug of black coffee on a cork mat at the edge of Liz’s desk and a hot cup of tea on Bernie’s desk pad. They thanked her and picked up their cups, taking small sips to test the temperature.
Bernie looked at her parishioner sympathetically, waiting to see if he wanted to add anything.
“I’m so sorry, Karl. There is nothing more painful than feeling separated from God. But would you believe me if I told you that everyone—even the strongest Christians—go through periods of spiritual dryness and suffering?
Mother Teresa for example, experienced a very long period of doubt and despair that she called the “dark night of the soul.” She was tested for a very long time—only God knows why. Yet, throughout this period, she put one foot in front of another and held on to God’s promises.”
They spoke for a few minutes, and Bernie ended with words of encouragement:
“You need to hold on, Karl. God is here with you, even if you don’t feel his presence. He is with you in your pain. He feels your pain. He feels your emptiness. He feels your despair. He is sitting next to you, even though you can’t see him. Turn to him in prayer and be assured that he hears you.”
She smiled at him. “God wants to help you, but you need to be willing to accept his help. It may be in the form of an answered prayer, an opportunity, a person or circumstance he places in your path. God comes to us in many ways.
William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury, once said that humility is not in giving to others, but in accepting help from others.
“Well, I don’t want to be beholdin’ to anyone,” retorted Karl.
“Ah, that, my dear Karl, is a decidedly unchristian sentiment.”
Karl looked both shocked and offended by Bernie’s words.
She explained, “God wants us to accept his help. We cannot claim to be humble and reject our dependence on God at the same time. We need God. A truly humble person accepts his or her dependence on God.
Do you know the old story about the guy on the roof of his house during a flood, who prayed for God to rescue him, then waved off help from people in a rowboat, motorboat, and helicopter? The water kept rising, and he said, ‘God, why haven’t you rescued me?’ God replied, ‘I sent two boats and a helicopter! What else do you want?’”
Karl nodded his head slowly. “I guess I see what you mean. Ginny has been a great source of strength, and you’re helping me . . . ”
“We at Hope Chapel are here for you, Karl. This is a place of hope. At some point, if you want to share your problems, we might be able to offer more assistance. Now, I don’t know what your problems are, but I know the one who knows.
Karl replied quickly, “I know that you ladies talk . . .”
Bernie laughed and interrupted him. “No, I didn’t mean Ginny—I was talking about God! I know God and I know that he knows what is on your heart and mind.” She smiled, “Can I pray with you?”
Karl looked relieved, and bowed his head.
“All-knowing and loving Father, you know what is in our hearts and minds. You know our concerns, our fears, our worries and anxieties before we know them. You have told us not to be anxious about anything, and yet it is so hard to keep our concerns at bay. You know what is on Karl’s heart, and we ask that you lift this burden from him. Guide and comfort him in the knowledge that you are always with him, and that you will carry him through this trying time. Amen.”