What a blessing it is to be able to meet with people who are at that crossroad in their lives and they are facing the end of their life here, on this earth. God does not promise any of us tomorrow. He tells me that He will never leave me or forsake you and me. He tells me that He cares about you and me. He created a beautiful world that is so awesome that I thoroughly enjoy my journey in the here and now (especially in the spring time with the grass turning green, the flowers blooming, and the birds singing). From the beauty of nature to the joy of family and friends, “It is good.” And at times, “It can be hard.” The most important thing you and I can do is to be a friend to one that is facing end of life; to be there for them, with them, when they want us there. The most important lesson I have learned in my eight years in hospice and ministering to people that are at end of life is simple: “It is not about me. It is all about the patient and their needs.” The second most important lesson I have learned as a chaplain is: “It is not about me, it is all about God’s love and grace and forgiveness.”
I was asked to share a little about common questions I get as a chaplain when a patient is facing end of life. I have thought a lot about that question and my initial response is that every situation is unique in itself and everyone’s faith is their own, so the questions vary depending on where the patient is in their faith journey. But as I thought more on this topic, I realize that there is some commonality amongst people’s questions. For example, when I am seeing patients who are over 92, I frequently hear the question, “Why has God not taken me home yet? “ In other words, “I’m ready to die and yet I am still here!” I listen as they share their life story and for many how God has been such a blessing for them, not that they have not had hard times also, but that He has blessed them in varying ways. I hear about children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and spouses who have died before them. We smile and laugh together and pray that God will not tarry in calling them home someday soon.
Another question I hear asked in differing ways is: “When I die and go to heaven will I recognize my family? Will they be with me? How can I be sure I will go to heaven?” Heaven is a big topic. Why? Because it is a reality that may one day be a continuation of the journey of life in which God is the final judge, not us. I ask for the patient and their families to share with me their spiritual journey in life and where they have been and where they are now. I listen! Let me say that again, “I listen.” I listen as they share with me what heaven will be like as they see heaven. We can trust in God’s promises. God will do something awesome with His creation. I share with them Revelation 21:3-4. I have had many ask, “Will we have pets in heaven?” How do I respond? Let me ask you this: “What do you think?” A patient had just recently said to me, “I am not sure if I will get into heaven? I have made so many mistakes. I am not sure if I am worthy.” My immediate response was, “You know what. I am not either. None of us are worthy on our own. That is why Christ shed His blood for our sins. He paid the price, the entrance fee. We now get to be blessed with His grace.”
One more question I hear from patients at end of life is usually asked more in a statement and not so much a question, but really is being asked as a question, “I am not sure if God can forgive me. “ This is a tough one. Not so much as to how to answer, but as to how to get the patient to accept God’s love and forgiveness for whatever is causing them pain, whatever is hindering them from forgiving themselves. Again, the most important thing I can do is ask them if they are willing to share what they mean and listen. Finding forgiveness at end of life is so important for many to find a peaceful death. Ephesians 1:7-10 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Why? So we might be holy and blameless before him, because he has lavished his love on us, on you.
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