The best lesson I learned from working in a nursing home at the innocent age of 16 years, was that sooner or later the hidden thoughts of the mind are going to be exposed. It wasn’t just the senile or confused inmates that were open books. By that point in their lives, even those completely in control of their mental faculties were so well worn in their attitudes that their countenances were like billboards.
Oddly, there were really only two varieties. No gradient or range of attitude quotient. They were only content or mean. If content, they were pleasant and easy to get along with. If mean, well, you can guess. It made me think. What would show and come out of my heart and mind at that age?
I began to realize that all the self-control in front of the world didn’t matter if my most inner being was just being masked. Any facade was bound to slip under stress or some situation beyond my control, such as illness or anesthesia (maybe only those in the medical field are worried about that particular scenario, based on what they’ve seen?). The best solution to any potential embarrassment was to truly be on the inside who I wanted to look like on the outside.
The next step, was to think on a whole new level about what kind of person I really wanted to be. More than just being diligent or reliable, I now thought more about being humble and kind. Not that I hadn’t tried to be those things before, but now I thought about what it would take for me to have the kind of attitude that didn’t make it a struggle to act the way I wanted to. How did I need to think about my circumstances and other people?
When I had children, and they were struggling with their behaviors, I would bring up this approach. Sometimes, I could tell they were only outwardly obeying, and I would say something to the effect, “You can try to be good all you want, but without changing your attitude, that is going to be very difficult to maintain.” I was always gratified by seeing a light go on in their mind, in spite of the fact that they sometimes wanted to hang onto resentment and selfishness.
One day, my method was actually tested. On me. I had to have neck surgery to repair a ruptured disc in my neck that was making my right arm non-functional. I had been under anesthesia before, but had always gone through the waking up process less obviously. Meaning, I had laid there calmly, without being aware of things and without talking. So I am told. This time, however, as soon as I had the slightest awareness of the ability to move, I sat straight up and started singing. The recovery room staff was rather firm about telling me to lay down, but I was happily unconvinced of the necessity. I would sit right back up and start to sing. I do hope the rest of the recovering patients enjoyed it…
More than that, as soon as anyone came close to take care of me, I began telling them the truth about Jesus Christ. It was like I was drunk, I think. Because I never have been. But I was definitely beyond uninhibited. I remember I was excited and cheerful, though many of the details I only know because family and friends who were present loved to talk about it for days afterward.
Most of the hospital staff took it quite well. I only remember one of the nurses really scowling at me, but I also vaguely remember a look on her face indicating that she knew I was “under the influence” and she saw no hope of keeping me quiet. Otherwise, it was not a message she would normally stick around to hear. I guess God has very creative ways of getting his Word out.
I remember that after a short while in my regular hospital room, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I knew something a bit strange had gone on. And that I was self-possessed again. I was also reassured because what I thought was the core of my life was validated. I used this more personal story to reinforce to my kids that “What is in your heart and mind, will come out when you least expect it.”
Now that my mom is ill, with a cancer of the brain affecting her memory and abilities, I am seeing another version of the truth of this phenomena. She is not so confused that she doesn’t know how bad the cancer is. She knows it is aggressive and untreatable; and she has cried some over the sadness of the impending results, the temporary good-byes, the loss of opportunity in this lifetime. However, she is cheerful and unselfish. She makes jokes and asks people how they are and listens attentively. All while she is facing a most serious situation in a fairly disoriented state of mind. She is not cranky or gloomy. She is an absolute pleasure to be around, full of appreciation for the time left to shower us with as much love as she can. That is character and quality that cannot be faked. In case you are wondering, it is also based on a security in Jesus Christ. Her hope holds fast.
You may not ever face a brain tumor or entertain (or irritate) people while under the influence of anesthesia, but those are only some of the ways the mind is inevitably exposed. Choices made on a daily basis, how you act in traffic or the grocery store, how you treat your spouse and family, all of these things expose your mind. They proclaim if you are selfish and angry, or kind and humble. Most of us care about how we come across to others, to some degree or another, but there is nothing like actually working on our attitudes to help us come across that right way. Because we actually mean it, with all our heart and mind.