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Why did I do that?

She said No. But I played the song anyway.


It was my third hospice visit with Pauline [not her real name], a woman in her eighties with Alzheimer's who had lived for years in a residential care home. Music is a powerful connecting tool for the memory-impaired, and her daughter had earlier informed me of her mother’s appreciation for Johnny Mathis, a popular singer from the late ‘50’s through the 80’s.



I asked Pauline if she would like to listen to a couple of his songs, and she said yes. I pulled the Bluetooth speaker out of my bag and began a search on my phone’s YouTube app.


I asked if she wanted Misty, my favorite among his songs. She shook her head, her way of saying no. I asked about Chances Are. She nodded with a smile.


I witnessed a classic Karaoke moment … from a mostly non-verbal woman. Few of the lyrics were missing as she mouthed the words along with Johnny. That was fun – for her to hear the music again, and for me to see the revived remnants of her memory.


What song came next? Yep. I played Misty … for Me.*  


I was having a great time, singing in my head … until half-way through the song. Pauline put up her hand and said no. I hit the pause button and asked a series of questions:


  • Do you want me to stop this song?    She nodded yes. [long pause]

  • Do you want me to continue with the visit?               No

  • Do you want me to pray for you today?         No

  • Do you want me to leave now?          Yes.


It’s not often I leave a hospice visit feeling stunned, but on that day I emotionally crawled to my car, knowing that I had blown it. Big time.


Did playing Misty reopen an emotional scar from her past? Was it just anger because I didn’t honor her preference? Since Pauline was literally unable to express her feelings in words, I never learned the reason that she held up the stop sign.


One wrong action in the visit was followed by four right ones. First up - apologize: both vertically -- to God -- and horizontally -- to her daughter. I informed her of the incident and of my folly. She was both surprised and confused at her mom’s reaction and thanked me for the call.


Secondly, I had to chart on the visit. Health care workers are required by Medicare to give an account of our actions and interactions. A written narrative revolves around the adjective "what".  What did you notice? What was said? What did you do?


I can no longer electronically retrieve my narrative, but the pertinent portion likely read like this:

Chaplain brought encouragement to Patient by playing two music videos by one of her favorite artists. Partway through the second song, Patient indicated to Chaplain she didn’t want to hear any more, so visit today was concluded without prayer.


My narrative tells what happened, but it hardly tells the whole story, does it? The why is missing.


Skipping number three for a moment, the fourth and final step took place two weeks later. My follow-up visit began with a necessary and heartfelt apology to Pauline: I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.  Happily, she did just that, and smiled at my greeting every time in my twice-a-month visits, until her death a year later.


The most important action – and the primary topic for our reflection – was to honestly ask myself and to answer the necessary question: Why did I do that?


The answer is sadly simple: I chose to do what I wanted. My impulsive desire presided over her wish.


Hospice is all about comfort. In that singular moment by her bedside, I chose to bring comfort to myself, which meant I brought discomfort for her.


She said No. But I played the song anyway.


Objectively looking within to identify our motives is a courageous but humbling exercise we rarely put on our calendar. Manana. I’ll do it later.


I have neither the intention nor the qualifications to become your diving instructor, teaching you how to gracefully plunge into the dark and hidden reasons for your actions, reactions, and interactions. But I can assure you that taking that plunge is extremely beneficial.**


Why am I even sharing this story? It’s embarrassing enough to admit this knuckleheaded act to myself, but I don’t have to put it in print. Besides, Pauline was in the latter stages of Alzheimer's; by the time of my return visit she probably couldn’t remember what I had done.


Consider this post, therefore, as a short session of dipping our toes into the shallow and safe water of my minor misstep, inviting you to make a deeper dive.


See, it’s not so tough. I did it. So can you.


So, sometime in the next twenty four hours, ask yourself the tough question about one of your decisions or reactions: why did I do that?




Why do we need to ask that question?  Again, the answer is simple: our motives matter to God.


Unlike Medicare, Jesus is less concerned with what we do than why we do it.


Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:22-23


The Apostle Paul also makes it very practical. The moment we decided to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, the intentions behind our actions took on great significance.


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…. (Philippians 2:3-5)


I’ve underlined a portion of Paul’s instruction, but don’t get hung up on the two motives he calls us to avoid: ambition and conceit. Those are not the only unacceptable reasons!


Paul calls us to examine – and to persevere until we know – the why’s behind our what’s. He also calls us to have one motive in our relationship with others. It's the same one Jesus had: sacrificial love. Love gives up our preferences, again just like Jesus said: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 NLT)


I’ll share another personal and instructive example.


Linda and I have a division of labor. She handles the vast majority of dinner planning and preparation, and the same can be said for me with doing the dishes.


But before you stand up to give me a high-five, a full disclosure is necessary. We celebrate forty-three years of marriage in March, but I’ve only been on pots-and-pans-duty for about half of them.


In other words, for the first twenty-plus years of our marriage, Linda did it all – planning the meal, preparing it, and cleaning up after.


Why did I do that? What were my motives? Did I act out of a rationale that I was entitled to sit down and eat, and then to sit on the couch after it was over? What was driving my action, or should I say inaction? Why didn’t I change sooner?


Here’s why this is an instructive example. Once we begin to examine our reasons, we start afresh on the path of sacrificial love. New baby steps in the right direction become healthy habits.  


I can’t look back and tell you what prompted me to change or the day I made that decision. But I can tell you it’s now far more than a habit. It’s what I do, and is just one of the ways in which I can actively love Linda.


Every day and every time we look at our motives, and then fall (back?) in line with his footsteps and his example, Jesus smiles. He’s all about grace, but he’s still calling us to do the right thing. The loving thing.


I could pose some suggestive questions to prompt the examination of your own motives. But I’ll pass. God’s better at that. As you ask him for help, he’ll point out some good places for you to start.  


Benediction of Blessing:

  • May you thank God for giving you the remarkable ability to analyze the reasons for your actions. After all, we’re the only part of his creation who have that ability.

  • May you have the courage to admit to yourself and to God the honest motives for your actions, even if it’s embarrassing and will likely cause you to apologize: I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

  • May you sense the loving smile on Jesus’ face as you follow in his footsteps, loving others in the same way as he has loved you.  

 

* The closing phrase is a subtle reference to a 1971 psychological thriller starring Clint Eastwood – "Play Misty for Me".  Well done, haunting and scary, I hesitate to recommend it. But viewer beware.

** Refusing to explore the depths of our emotions, priorities, self-talk, and well-worn psychological ruts dooms us to a lifetime of unhealthy patterns.  Recently I discovered and have begun to read a helpful book on this subject: Emotional Agility by Susan David.  I recommend it highly, and especially the chapter entitled: Walking Your Why. 

*** Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).

 

Credits:

  • Johnny Mathis: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

  • Why did I do that: Shutterstock

6 Comments


Gary Melhaff
Gary Melhaff
Mar 05

Thanks for sharing that Brian. Touches many emotions for me after going through both of my parents deaths over the last 2 years, my mom passing just this last december. Both of my parents would emotionally react in their final months to very unexpected things. My dad whom I'd never seen cry would unexpectedly cry when we played Andre Rieu video, or get very upset when seeing his old church service or a video of his family from long ago. Connections to the past in their brain which seem mysterious to us. I've only experienced it with my parents so can't imagine what it's like for you to see this many times over. Miss you guys.

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Brian Wiele
Brian Wiele
Mar 06
Replying to

Thank you for your tender reflections, Gary. I'm sure these are tough times for you, having lost your mom and your dad in recent days. But I hope that your memories are buoying your spirit as well. Linda and I are very grateful for your friendship and your partnership in ministry.

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pmelhaff
Mar 04

What a great reminder of who we need to be before the Lord. Thank you for your humbleness Brian. I pray, we will both be able to ask ourselves this question, why, before we speak. Thus helping us to love one another, as we would like to be loved . Miss you.

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Brian Wiele
Brian Wiele
Mar 05
Replying to

Hi Peg - thanks for the affirming words and prayers. We miss you too!

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Lydia Richards
Lydia Richards
Mar 02

Thank you. Asking the question, as you do here, with more curiosity and less judgement is very helpful.

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Brian Wiele
Brian Wiele
Mar 02
Replying to

Thanks! That's how I was hoping it would come across.

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