December 14, 2019

Give us this day our daily bread


I know what it means to live week to week, paycheck to paycheck.

I don’t know what it means to live day to day, without guarantee of a paycheck.

I don’t know what it means to be completely dependent on grace and mercy. I may indeed be completely dependent, but I seldom realize it. I can think about tomorrow with some confidence. I can finish one meal while already looking forward to the next one. Sure, I’m fully aware there’s no guarantee. Nevertheless, I’m not sure the word “needy” has ever really applied when it comes to the way I actually go about my business and function each day.

This makes it hard for me to grasp the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Today, at lunchtime I sat in the hallway of a nursing home. The middle aged man in front of me was sleeping with his chin on his chest, slumped down in a high-backed wheelchair. He has a terrible disease, one which causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in his brain. He has been in a facility for years now, has done relatively well for someone with his disease, but there he is. And there he will be tomorrow, the next day, and the day after, until who knows when. Day after day after day.

And there I am, sitting in front of him, praying the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s a prayer he knows and sometimes when I pray it with him I get intimations that he understands and is following along. A word of it occasionally wiggles its way out of his mouth. He may be coherent enough to say thank you for when I pray. But most of the time he just sits there with his chin on his chest, or he lies on his bed on his side, curled up and staring at the wall.

I’ve met his wife and his pastor. Each of them comes at various times to feed him and sit with him. The pastor told me he often has to forcibly lift his head, fighting stern resistance to get food to his mouth. He never knows when the patient might have an outburst. It’s a characteristic of his disease. He might flail his hands violently and buddy you better get out of the way. The minister took it flush on the jaw once. Human strength, even in extremis, is remarkable. It can hurt you. Most of the time it turns out there’s no problem at all in the dining room, and there, sitting in his high-backed wheelchair he gets his daily bread.

bildeToday in the hallway, I choke a little just saying the words.

I know that I’m going to walk out that door in just a few moments. I’ll walk down the hall, walk to my car, drive to my next visit and, sooner or later I’ll stop somewhere and have lunch. I’ll use my debit card, order a salad, and sit in my car and eat it. With my own hands, at a place of my choosing, using my own money, mobility, and sense. Later this week, my employer will deposit another paycheck in my bank, and I’ll be able to have lunch each day for the foreseeable future. Maybe even buy someone else lunch on occasion.

As a caregiver, I don’t often have to deal with this kind of survivor’s guilt, but that’s what it feels like today. It feels wrong for me to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” with this man in this place on this day because I sense the disconnect when I say that little word, “us.” It feels like I ought to say, “Give him his daily bread, Lord, I’m covered.”

I could get all spiritual here and start talking like I used to talk: I’m needy too. I’m just a beggar. I need grace and mercy just as much as the next person. If God doesn’t provide for me, I’m sunk. There is no inherent difference between my patient in the nursing home and me. He just has a physical condition that makes his daily need for God’s grace and mercy apparent. If I could look behind the scenes and see all the ways God protects me and cares for me, I would understand that I too, am just the same as the man in the high-backed wheelchair.

All true enough, but largely irrelevant to the way most of us live and think each day. When we do say it, it’s mostly spiritual posturing, the old humble bit, the right language to draw a knowing nod from those in our crowd. The words cover an existential fear so pure we’re obliged to avoid it. It’s possible I won’t really know the meaning of “Give us this day our daily bread” until I require someone to force my head back and put a spoon of puréed mush in my mouth. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to that, whether it happens tomorrow or twenty five years from now.

Will someone come and wheel me to the dining room then? Will someone sit with me and perform that lowly service? Will someone pray the Lord’s Prayer with me when I can only occasionally mutter a word or two in recognition of it? And will they find themselves choking when they get to the line, “Give us this day our daily bread”?

I can only hope so. That’s probably really what I’m praying for as I sit in this nursing home and try not to see myself in that high-backed wheelchair.

Until then I eat every lunch in defiance and fear of that day.


  1. No guarantees…

  2. The time will come for each of us when all of the handholds of life will not be there for us.

    I’m so glad that you are able to pray that prayer with that gentleman and give him the True Bread which comes down from Heaven. The Bread which we all so desperately need.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Getting all Spiritual because CM didn’t?

      • It’s his church, I think, or tradition, to be fair. You must put forth the Law, then you must put forth the Gospel.

        It’s akin to saying “you burnt the meat, but thankfully the sandwich is still tasty”, “I might have sped to work but at least I got here on time”. It’s just a different way of looking at the world, but kind of irks those of us who notice it. A Lutheran Jesus Juke, lol.

        Could definitely be worse.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It’s his church, I think, or tradition, to be fair. You must put forth the Law, then you must put forth the Gospel.

          But a “One Size Fits All”? Every Time?

          This is like the Sunday School exam where you’re supposed to enter “JESUS” for every answer, no matter what the question. (Except if you’re Net Orthodox; then you enter “ORTHODOXY!”)

          A Lutheran Jesus Juke, lol.

          And I am sick of Jesus Jukes as One-Size-Fits-All standard comments/replies.

    • David Cornwell says

      However the problem is this: Life is not divided up into the physical and the spiritual. For some reason I have an actual body, with real physical needs. Our existence is an embodied one. Or at least mine is.

    • Christiane says

      John 2l:18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

  3. The unfairness of life is frightening and disorientating. Social institutions, including religions, work to make this unfairness invisible, or to rationalize it. Religions especially do a good job of this; but at the boundary situations, the veneer gets thin indeed. Sitting in the hallway of a nursing home, or hospital, exposes one to the possibility of encountering one of these boundary situations, however much the surrounding institution is constructed to reduce the possibility that the experience will occur. The radical inequity of existence has power to break through all the social and religious facades in a moment. Death itself seems to be the only egalitarian aspect of existence, but it provides no answers. For Christians, the only hope is found in the resurrection of Jesus, however many questions remain for this life. But perhaps that, too, is rationalization.

    • “Social institutions, including religions, work to make this unfairness invisible, or to rationalize it.”

      I disagree. This is not the role, purpose, or intent of [most] social institutions; at least not universally, I do not believe this is true even generally.

      “Religions especially do a good job of this”

      Really? I feel that they fail miserably at this. If they were good at it the post-evangelical wilderness would be a free to be a wilderness, unpepled by all but the occasional vagrant.

      That they fail so completely is a good thing; as that is not what they should be about.

      • Jazziscoolithink says

        It may not be the stated intent, but it is often the effect. What Robert said is true to my experience. Really.

      • The Finn, I’ll stick with the gist of what I’ve said. I misspoke when I said that religions do a good job of this: it’s a well-nigh impossible task to manage the perception of the unfairness that surrounds us. But they try hard to do that, and from society’s perspective, that’s one of their main functions. When talking heads speak about the value of religions to society, this is one of the things they mean.

  4. I have always been unusually strong. I am in my mid fifties now. I can no longer rep out 400 on bench presses. In fact I haven’t been to the gym since mid December when I got sick. The stuff still lingers and on top of work there is nothing left each night. I wonder about these things. Truly I have hoped the Lord is merciful and takes me quickly. i am not likely to listen to the docs on anything big and will try to work till my last day here. I have been told that this is selfish but it is my life and my wishes so I wonder who is really being selfish. I saw my grandfather take a cup full of pills everyday till he ended in dementia not even able to feed himself. I was little and they wouldn’t even let him go fishing anymore. I rowed him out one day when they weren’t paying attention before he went to the home and gave him his rod he took it and his fingers started to move the way they always did when we fished and I saw the man was still in there. Then they caught us and started yelling at me to bring him back. He should of fell over in the water holding that rod as a way of going not in a state hospital bed. I have always wondered who was being selfish.

    Give us this day our daily bread. I have never thought of it in any other way than Jesus the bread I can’t live without. I see how much I enjoy food though and have often thought I should put in a will that no one should feed me if I can’t myself. Fasting to meet the Lord doesn’t seem so awful to me. My uncle Zimmie who recently died stop eating at ninety two and said he thought he should eat but just didn’t feel like it. Battle of the Bulge vet with a purple heart he certainly had one of the biggest hearts I have seen here. He just shut down and left and I wonder if I will ever get to throw horseshoes with him again along with my grandpa.

    • I haven’t done a bench press in 10 years, but in the last year I’ve rebuilt my back, lost 25 lbs, and went from maybe a 140 lb deadlift to over 335 lbs. It’s incredible what I can do now physically, I feel 5 years younger, and I regret all the lost time when I just didn’t know weightlifting and fitness could be so much fun. Really curious what my benchpress is.

      In my experience, the most selfish people are those who accuse others of being selfish. It’s a wonderful manipulative tool many learn at a young age in order to get what they want while saving face.

      You’ll find strength, w. I’ll be praying you do.

      • Highlight of my day for real Stuart. You melted my heart. Deadlifting is no joke. It is definitely an all around exercise and I would love to do it but for the herniated discs in my back. I still try some back stuff but I have to be real careful. I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t make a come back there pun intended. I always read your comments.

  5. “I could get all spiritual here and start talking like I used to talk”

    Why IM is one of the finest BLOGs on the Internet.

    “I’m needy too. … All true enough, but largely irrelevant… it’s mostly spiritual posturing,”

    This; true.

    “Will someone come and wheel me to the dining room then? I can only hope so.”

    And this.

  6. wow….thank you.

  7. During my husband’s illness we made many, many trips to our local VA Hospital. A world hidden away from so many. It took me awhile to stop staring, to stop being shocked. One young man in particular always struck me with such force. He “blew his mind” with drugs. He lived at the hospital. He lay on a gurney with rolling head, eyes that roamed but did they see? Helpless. Every day his father faithfully came and cared for his most basic needs. He shaved him, cleaned him and fed him. I observed many times the “mush” being forced into his mouth. Where was his mother I often wondered. Alive? Too heartbroken to visit? Pretending her son was dead?

    And of course I heard the ramblings of others who were still “there” – wherever “there had been.” Still fighting, forever broken. One man in a wheelchair came up to me and showed me a photograph of a woman and sweet red haired children. His wife and kids he said. Coming this weekend to take him home, he was so excited. Except he continued to reside there. No weekend ever came.

    NOTHING makes us see ourselves like God sees us until we observe true helplessness. True humiliation. True brokenness. NOTHING. And then we get just a glimpse of how beautiful He is. The Father, daily, faithfully taking care of us. Cleaning us up, feeding us, caring for us in our helplessness. And like the young man at the VA we are incapable of even saying, “Thank you Father.”

    • David Cornwell says

      Nursing homes — and this of which you speak scare the hell outta me.

      • DAVID,
        they should . . . my father was in a rehab after hospitalization and there were orders to change his leg dressing every day . . . my brother is a medical doctor, and when he visited our father there, my brother saw that the dressing was in bad condition so he went out to the desk and picked up my father’s chart and read that no one had entered that my father had his dressing changed for four days . . . my father had told Leonard that was the case . . . my brother circled and initialed that he had seen this and left a message to call him . . .

        the next day, I was yelled at by the administrator of the facility for what my brother had done, which I was told was not allowed there . . . no apology for the lack of needed wound care . . . go figure

        my father was readmitted back to the hospital with an infected leg . . . we then had a private duty nurse with him for the duration of his care . . . I also am very afraid of these ‘nursing’ facilities, which I pray are not all so neglectful . . . so sad, this

        • David Cornwell says

          My fear is of the existential kind that Chaplain Mike speaks about above. However it does include the incompetence you talk about here. I’ve been in some places that seem absolutely terrible to me. Yet I’ve also visited relatives and parishioners in homes that give excellent and loving care.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Let me guess… All the staff nurses/orderlies were named “No Hablo Ingles”?

          Out here, that’s common for “wait-to-die warehouses”.

  8. CM, what did you intend the following sentence to read:

    “All true enough, but largely irrelevant to the way most of obliged to avoid them. us live and think each day.”

  9. Thank you for the tender honesty and brutal reality. I am a broken man who far too often confuses being “blessed” with being ‘privileged.’ Thank you for putting me in a place and space of deep gratitude and oneness.

  10. I just visited my brilliant mother, nearing the end of the Alzheimer’s tunnel, slumped on a couch in a place that smelled of incontinence. I held her hand and talked to her, but she doesn’t know me. Occasionally, though, if my sister and I sing to her, she can actually sing along for a few words. Does she know, is she learning, about her reliance on God, a concept she rejected when she was sentient?

    My children are afraid of the same thing happening to me, but they have all promised me that they would take care of me no matter what. What have I done to deserve such grace? It too is my daily bread.

  11. It’s such a remarkable prayer. Other than reciting it daily in a Christian grade school when I was really young, it’s not been a large part of my life since the age of 10 or so. And in fact, I don’t remember the last time I heard it recited in its entirety. But it’s such a beautiful, remarkable prayer.

    Our Father, which art in heaven,
    Hallowed be thy Name.
    Thy Kingdom come.
    Thy will be done in earth,
    As it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our trespasses,
    As we forgive them that trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    But deliver us from evil.
    For thine is the kingdom,
    The power, and the glory,
    For ever and ever.

  12. “When we do say it, it’s mostly spiritual posturing, the old humble bit, the right language to draw a knowing nod from those in our crowd.”

    If this is true, and I think that it is, what prayer replaces it when it doesn’t take much faith or reliance on God to expect that you will not go hungry today?

    How do we make it so that it is not just some ethereal reality that we affirm, and make it more concrete within our lives?

    • Just to be clear, the language that amounts to spiritual posturing is in the preceding paragraph not the Lord’s Prayer.

      To answer your bigger question, here’s a basic rule I might suggest: pray Scripture, converse as an honest human being.

    • “Thank you, Lord, that I have something to eat.
      Help me not to be selfish if you call on me to share.
      Thank you, Lord, that I can wipe my own butt.
      Help me not to shirk the task if I have to do it for someone else.
      Thank you Lord for my health
      Help me never to take it for granted.

      Above all, remind me that is a very good world
      A little broken, a little crazy, but still good.
      If not for me, right here, right now, then it is for millions of others.”

      • This is pretty good.

        Lord, you have birthed me into a part of the world, a family, and circumstances where I am not constantly reminded of how much I depend on your providence for material things. Lead me to live a life of thanksgiving for all that has been provided for me, and to not attribute any of it to a greatness to be found in myself. Let my heart break for those that are not as fortunate as myself, and lead me to help to provide for their needs as well.

  13. Has anyone watched ‘Derek’ on Netflix? It fits today’s post. It’s one of the most endearing, heartbreaking, “where is God in this?” shows I’ve ever seen — with lots of much needed comic relief.

  14. It seems to me that most of us pray the Lord’s prayer asking for something instead of grateful for what we have received. I have taken to praying it a bit differently. I have never had to go hungry a day in my life. So the relevant bit for me to pray in gratitude and confidence is:

    …For you give us this day our daily bread…

  15. Hi CM
    I really like it when you write about the people you encounter in your work.
    I enjoy hanging out with the same group of people that you minister to.
    I once had the privilege of meeting a lil old lady who had survived WW11 in Hungary.
    She seemed to live between two worlds. Sometimes she would speak English other times Hungarian.
    She was all alone and very afraid. I would mostly just sit with her to help fill the void but sometimes I would read the psalms to her. Well let me tell you, the psalms take on a whole new meaning when you are reading them to someone who has endured such atrocities and is literally in the shadow of death. It was a very strange, beautiful, mystical, scary experience for me. Sometimes I was not sure if the words were really that comforting but she would let me read, so I did.
    Thank you for the work you do! I know it is scary and hard sometimes!