Joyce Makes a Choice: An Angelic Alternative

My friend Joyce had been working as a chaplain at the state hospital for the mentally ill, some thirteen years ago, when the staff got the word that the facility would be closing.  It was a gradual process, and every effort was made to find other places for the employees and residents to work and live.  Joyce was one of the last employees to leave the hospital.

As patients and staff relocated, the number of those who remained slowly dwindled until at last everybody—a few doctors, some nurses, the patients, and Joyce—could fit in one small unit.  The last few patients were, for the most part, the ones most difficult to handle.  Thus finding accommodations for them proved to be somewhat challenging.

In addition, out of sheer necessity, staff members began to perform one another’s duties.  For example, doctors and Joyce began preparing and serving meals as well as cleaning bedpans.  To make matters worse, as one section after another of the hospital closed down, workers from other state facilities began plundering whatever materials and equipment they needed for their respective institutions.  In the end (would you believe?) they even carried off the last television set.

Now you would think that all of this would go for making frayed nerves, constant irritability, and short tempers.  Yet that is not what happened.  Here’s why.

Desperate for some sort of entertainment, Joyce brought in her own VCR with its television monitor along with countless episodes of Touched by an Angel, the CBS series starring Roma Downey as an angel named Monica, and Della Reese as her celestial supervisor Tess.  The television show, as you may recall, told how heavenly beings conveyed messages of divine comfort and hope to people sorely in need of Providential assistance.

To be sure, there was some initial scoffing on the part of the staff, but, before long, nurses, patients, and even the doctors would be sitting down together to watch the angelic  adventures of Monica and Tess.  There were times when everyone in the room would be crying or laughing together, or hugging one another.

The most dramatic transformations, however, took place in the day-to-day lives of the patients.  Deprived of their steady fare of soap operas, MTV, and South Park, and sustained by a wholesome diet of inspirational entertainment, the residents began to grow calmer, more docile, and, yes, even saner!

I cannot help but think of Saint Paul’s advice to the Church at Philippi.

“For the rest, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever honorable, whatever just, whatever holy, whatever lovable, whatever of good repute, if there be any virtue, if anything worthy of praise, think upon these things.  And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, these things practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.”  (Philippians 4:8-9)

The Apostle is clearly saying that the ideas and images we habitually put into our brains will have an effect on our personality and character.  If we take in the world’s junk, we will produce junk.  It is enough to say that practically every serial killer, every child abuser, and every rapist got started down the wrong path by looking at pornography.  Why do so many of us insist on wallowing in what is at the very best stupid and at the very worst immoral?

If, on the other hand, we make it a habit to ponder that which is good and wholesome, then we will become like that which we ponder.  There is, says Saint Paul, an added bonus:  “And the God of peace will be with you.”  I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.