If you ask anyone who knows me, they'll tell you that I love "Buy One, Get One" coupons, known as BOGOs. But last week was the first time I'd seen someone attempt to redeem a BOGO for prayer.
I was making my daily rounds through our cardiac intensive care unit when I met an octogenarian who was admitted for routine heart tests.
"Good morning," I said, calling her by name. "I'm Norris."
"Hello, doctor," she said. "I've been waiting to see you."
"Oh, I'm not a doctor," I said, with a warm smile. (My neckties often encourage that assumption. I must admit that it's a mistake I sometimes enjoy, if only for a microsecond.)
"I'm the chaplain," I said. I paused for her to process that information and waited for the assumptions that often follow; this is the moment folks either assume I've come to tell them that they are dying or I've come to convert them.
Fortunately, she assumed neither. With a clear, welcoming tone, she asked me to sit down.
As I sat, I invited her to share her faith journey with me. Over the next half hour, she unfolded her lifetime. She'd been raised as a Lutheran in wartime Europe. Her faith had helped her though the hardship of war, her family's immigration and the struggle to earn a living while trying to learn the English language.
Finally, she arrived at the present day in her story. She told me she was praying that her hospital test results would turn out well.
When I asked if I could pray for her, she nodded. "Please pray with me that the tests will help the doctors solve my problems."
Then I asked, as I commonly do, a point of clarification.
"Would you like me to pray for you right now? Or would you like me to add you on to my prayer list that I pray over at the end of my day?"
I introduce this option because it allows the patient some latitude and doesn't put them on the spot.
She leaned forward from her pillow to add a question of her own to the mix. "Do you get paid for this job?"
Her question caught me off guard. It had the random tone of a dementia patient. However, this woman was very intentional about what she was asking.
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "The hospital pays me for my work."
"Well, then," she concluded. "I'll expect both."
I released a hesitant chuckle that showed me to be a little slow on the uptake.
"I'm sorry. Both?" I asked.
"I'm answering your question. If you are paid to do this, I want you to say a prayer for me both now and later," she said.
I pointed a finger toward her in the way one does when admitting that a worthy opponent has unmistakably taken the upper ground.
"You got me," I said. "You definitely got me. Yes, I'll pray for you both now and, most certainly, later."
This lady was the BOGO champ. She was definitely getting two prayers for the price of one.
She countered with a wry smile at getting the upper hand. We laughed another moment together, then she offered me her hand to hold as I prayed.
That spunky octogenarian came to our hospital with an exhausted heart, but she proved that the heart of her spunk will likely never be exhausted.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain and a board-certified hospital chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.