Over the past several weeks, I’ve sat across from countless nursing home patients and families discussing their prognoses. Somehow, the standard pieces include “it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so get your daily rest” and “illness can drive a family apart or bring it together — be aware of each other’s needs and find extra support.”
Having been given such a “grim” diagnosis so many years ago I abhor the “days to a few weeks,” “weeks to months,” “months to years,” “a few years to a decade or more.” In my case, I was cited detailed statistics, including twenty-five years of good life. But today, any one of us can readily find counterpoints for and against just about anything, let alone the types of challenges you and I face.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis also thirty-years on Good Friday. And for many months, I knew I had something, so I wasn’t all that surprised. In fact, there was a certain relief. The next steps were clear: console the spouse, refinance the mortgage, write overdue letters to friends I thought I would never write, plan trips, make amends and other assorted details I meant to do in life, but nothing could be more obvious when your day’s work included the next paycheck or this … or that.
In theory, if I knew how many months or years I actually had left, I would bucket list the whole thing. Three months, I’d just spend time with an annoying family to remind me how MS was actually a blessing. A year? I’d have a plan. Ten years, I’d skip the drama and get back to life.
In truth, I can’t tell you a time. But I can tell you to find what matters most to you.
There are no easy answers. Biblically speaking, the Bible is full of different stories in which God relates to humanity in times of tragedy and pain. Some suggest God uses calamity to punish the unfaithful; others that God uses tragedy to instruct us or improve us. Still others suggest God remains far off, disconnected, choosing instead to leave us to whatever catastrophes befall us.
Bart Ehrman, professor of religion at the University of North Carolina, once said he turned from his evangelical upbringing and became agnostic because he found Christianity incapable of answering a simple question: How could there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world? He found it difficult to believe in a loving God when there is so much in the world that is without love.
And there are many days when I can concur with Professor Ehrman. Still I reflect upon Nicholas Wolterstorff, a professor of philosophy at Yale and a Christian, who lost his son in a mountain-climbing accident. Like C. S. Lewis, he wrote about his struggle, and his pain, and his questions in a memoir entitled, Lament for a Son. “There is a hole in the world now,” he wrote. “In the place where he was, there’s not just nothing… I cannot make sense of it by saying ‘God did it’, but neither can I do so by saying, ‘There was simply nothing God could do about it.’”
So where is God? Well, I can only state that God is in every hug, every kiss, every comforting word. God is in every tear, every ache and every sorrow.
And just as Christ is with me unto the end, so I am with you. I will be there as best I can.