Hospice: Problematic Church Clichés

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you.

Isaiah 43:1-5

I was just outside a hospital waiting room, sitting on a bench beside the elevators with a good friend. She had been watching her husband battle cancer for many years and they were facing a hospice situation. Their wonderful kids and extended family took turns going into the ER room and huddling in the waiting room. The two of us sat together, holding hands and engaged in deep, whispered conversation.

She asked; “Tim, why do bad things happen to good people? My husband is genuinely a good, good man and I don’t understand why God allows this to happen.”

I hate this question. This distorts the nature of God’s relationship with us. “God is not in heaven manipulating the world based on human faithfulness. Terrible and horrible crap happens to wonderful, God-loving people all of the time. Life is not fair. There is not a balance of equal “hardship” distributed among humanity. Some people have it really, really tough and some lives are. . .easier, or so it appears. God’s role is not to keep you from walking through the fire, but to keep you from being engulfed. I wonder, if God put a shield around every believer then wouldn’t everyone easily see it and convert for its selfish purpose? This would require no faith, especially when the fires rage.

She continued; “But why do I feel burned? Where is God? I know that God isn’t going to give me more than I can handle but I can’t handle this!”

I hate this comment. In one sentence there is both great theology and implied devastating theology. “True, there is nothing, nothing that you and God can’t handle. But this implies that God is doling out chaos based on our ability to deal with it. That’s bogus. God is love and God would never put you or anyone though pain just to test you. The story of Job makes it seem like this is a spiritual reality. Let me assure you. God has not made a deal with Satan to hurt you. Jesus would not do that. Yes, you and God can get through this. You will get through this. You are not alone. Yes, the waters will rise, but you will not be consumed.”

She expressed her vulnerabilities; “But I don’t feel God’s presence. God is not answering my prayers. I feel alone.”

This comment is personal for me. “I, too, have poured out my prayers for my family. I, too, have felt unheard. I, too, have thrust my fist in the air and questioned God’s interest in me. I get it! I understand your frustration. It has often appeared to me that the patience required until God’s movement was longer than I could endure. But I had to wait anyway. God has shown up.” May I ask, what are you praying for? What do you want most?”

“Healing for my husband. Everyone around here is trying to convince me to give into hospice but giving into that is a sign of my lack of faith. I’m not giving up!”

“Listen, my friend. I can’t interpret God’s action. But, it seems to me that healing for your husband might mean his passing from this life to the next. Your sweet husband may find blessing when this fight is over and the pain is no more. Giving into hospice is not defeat. It might be the best way for love to be realized.”

My friend was uncomfortable. “Then why can’t I have peace with it? Why can’t I feel God’s presence? I’m praying for peace but there is none.”

Here is another request that makes my stomach ache. Many times in many different situations I have heard a longing from people who desire to feel God, to experience the assurance of God that proves God’s presence. Ok, I’m one of those people. I understand.

As I listened to my friend, I internally reflected on the times when I sat in a hospice situation where loving family members have prayed for peace; but to them peace would only come when their struggling loved one finally passed from this earth. My friend was not in this place.

“Oh I am so glad we are good friends because I can be honest with you. You might be praying for peace but you don’t want it. To find peace with this would mean that you are OK with it. And you are not OK! This sucks! This is NOT where you thought you would be today. This is NOT what you planned, or expected, or dreamed about or hoped. But finding peace does not mean you are OK! The peace of God is something that surrounds you, comforts you, holds you up when you cannot stand on your own, while you and God weather the storms of difficult living. Peace does not replace the reality of your pain. Peace helps you endure it. You may feel abandoned but you are not. You are not alone. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and God loves you,

“Tim, then what do you think I should pray for?”

Yeah, I hate that question, too. “Oh, girl, I can’t answer that for you. What do you need? Wisdom to see options clearly?

Courage to face the brutality of the storm?

Strength to make decisions?

Peace to keep fear in perspective?

Trust in God when you don’t understand?

Hope for what you can’t see or imagine or dream. . . . . . .yet?

There are so many things you need from God right now. Whatever you pray for, ask yourself, are you ready to receive it? You are not alone. In fact, we are not alone right here beside these elevators. The Holy Spirit is here and we are blessed. God’s grace is flooding your husband’s hospital room. God is working on behalf of your children with family and friends who are surrounding them and speaking love into them. God is at work in both of us. I imagine God holding you, surrounding you and whispering in your ear: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. You are not alone.

Within a couple of weeks this dear friend of mine asked me to perform her husband’s memorial service. I find myself reflecting on Isaiah 43. It is a text which seems obvious from the perspective of the survivor. My dear friend made it through the scorching flames of her husband’s passing. She is still treading in the tide but the waters will not consume her.

Is this a good text for her husband who succumbed to a horrible cancer? I believe it is. For God redeemed him. God called him by name. He is no longer in pain. He belongs to God and will never be alone for eternity.

In the opening welcome and introduction to this website, I shared the Scripture that inspired this online adventure, I Tim 6:20. This text is also the origination of the name; “Sacred Chatter.” However, my intent is not to be a singular voice. I invite your voice to be a part of the “chat” and I base this on another of my favorite Scriptures: Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I am considering how I can provoke love and good deeds in places beyond where I live. This is my attempt to enter into a Hebrews 10 conversation with you over social media.digitally. Now, I am interested in your feedback. Consider what provoking you can provide with your own Sacred Chatter.

What’s important to you? What really matters?

Add your voice in Sacred Chatter.

Love is ours to provoke. Good deeds are ours to sew.

That the wisdom of Hebrews 10 may flourish and grow.

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