With one of our church members in palliative care right now, I’ve spent a lot of time there in recent days. The view of life from the palliative care wing changes you. It reorients you to what life is really all about. Stephen Covey became famous for telling people to “begin with the end in mind.” We’re so isolated from opportunities to consider the end of our lives, though, that we seldom let it deeply affect us. It’s a perspective I don’t want to lose, and yet if I don’t pause to reflect on it, I know that I probably will. Let me share a few of the lessons.
1. In the end, very little matters.
In the end, nobody can see what car you drove or how big your house was. Nobody’s trying to impress each other with their fashion or jewels. Everybody gets the same size room and the same size bed. Everybody’s wearing the same hospital gown and is covered in the same hospital blankets. In the end, many of the things that we worry about don’t matter anymore. The temporary accomplishments and the failures are already fading from memory. They just don’t seem that significant. In the end, very little matters.
2. In the end, relationships with people matter.
To say that very little matters doesn’t mean that nothing matters. In the end, relationships with people matter. If living life in isolation feels lonely, ending life in isolation is many times more lonely. The presence of someone who cares seems to be the only thing that will bring a smile. Familiar faces, warm touches, and encouraging words become the fuel that makes the last days more bearable. As I’ve seen the steady stream of visitors come and go, I’ve been moved by the power of the family of God. Even someone with no blood relatives can experience the love of family through their relationships in the church. But those relationships need to be nurtured and developed. I fear that many in my generation will face the end, with some posts of encouragement on social media, but too little personal contact. With so little investment in significant, personal relationships, the foundation for life-giving friendships just won’t be there. Opportunities for fellowship in the church are a precious antidote to an otherwise lonely world.
3. In the end, relationships with people aren’t enough.
In the end, relationships with people matter, but they aren’t enough. At the bedside of a dying loved one, you know that your presence makes a difference, but you can’t help but feel your helplessness. You simply can’t do anything to address the big issues. Peace, meaning, assurance, hope, comfort – these are all gifts that are too precious for people to buy. Only God can provide these and we can bring them near in prayer. In the end, the person needs to lay hold of them, personally, through faith in Jesus. Sitting at the bedside of someone who has received God’s gifts through faith, brings reassurance and comfort that nothing else can. Then the patient becomes the gift-giver and the visitors become the recipients of God’s grace.
One of the gifts of God’s grace I enjoyed this week was the poem written by the woman at whose bedside I sat. It’s an expression of the power of God in the face of human weakness, and it’s just what I needed to hear. Perhaps you do, too. I’ll close with it below.
In awe of Him,
You are the perplexed
Oscillating in the winds of change;
I am the Door that
Opens into security and rest.
You are the sampler
Tasting the smorgasbord of worldly dishes;
I am the Vine that
Blossoms into priceless fruit.
You are the questioner
Asking who you are and why you’re here;
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life who
Holds your perfect plan.
You are the wanderer
Tunnelling in self-will, doubt and cynicism;
I am the Light that
Glows guidance, flooding radiant assurance.
You are the searcher
Yearning for happiness and fulfillment;
I am the Bread of Life that
Satisfies the hungry heart.
You are the lonely
Looking for the warmth of love’s embrace;
I am the Shepherd who
Cradles each lamb in tender love.
You are the defeated
Opting to end life’s pain;
But I am the Resurrection and the Life who
Promises a future of endless joy.
But I am