September 15, 2013
This is Part 1 of a series about Eric, age 46, admitted to hospice because of terminal cancer. Eric is single and lives with his elderly parents. Eric seldom complains so we depend on his parents to tell us what he needs. His mother, Rinda, told me, “He won’t ask for anything for himself.”
When Eric started having leg pain he thought it was “just tendonitis.” So he rubbed it down with good ole “Ben Gay” and went on. He said, “It seemed to work, because the pain would come and go.” But then one night he simply turned in bed and his femur (thigh bone) snapped; a pathological fracture! He was admitted to the hospital and was told that he had cancer, and that it had already metastasized to the bone. He took a few radiation treatments but declined chemotherapy when the oncologist told him there was only a 25 percent chance that it would even slow down the cancer’s growth. Eric admitted, “I know it’s gonna kill me.”
Since Eric was so direct, I didn’t think he’d mind if I was too; so I asked him, “What do you believe, spiritually?” He replied, “I believe in God, that Jesus is His son. He will send me to Heaven or hell”; then he concluded, “Come back whenever you can so we can talk about the Lord. It comforts me.”
During our second visit, Eric asked, “Do you pray for your patients?” I replied, “I do, and as a matter of fact I’ve been praying for you.”
Then Eric affirmed, “I believe that God is the creator and that Jesus is His son. I don’t even deserve to exist. He doesn’t owe me anything. He doesn’t owe any of us anything.”
That plunged us into a discourse about God’s sovereignty and grace; about how, “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Matthew 19:17). I shared that I learned some time ago, to stop going to God for approval; and that I surely don’t want God to give me what I deserve. Like the lowly tax collector who went up to the temple to pray, I’m pleading, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14). For if there’s only “One” good, then where does that leave the rest of us?
Eric enthusiastically agreed and boldly declared, “God is a heart God. He died for us because He loves us. So He wants us to love Him in return. Men look on the outside but God looks at the heart, on the inside. The mind can be fooled but not the heart.”
I told Eric, “You know, I really like you. I like how you put words together in a fresh way. I like your honesty and directness.”
As I was leaving, I noticed a signed picture of Reba McIntire hanging on the living room wall above Eric’s chair. I asked where he got it and he replied, “I saw her down at the Scioto County Fair years ago before she got famous. She was there with Moe Bandy.”
I told Eric, “I really like her. She seems like she’s a really good hearted person.”
Eric gave me a discerning grin and said, “At least that’s the image she presents. She’s an entertainer and entertainers always present an image that they want to look like.” Then he added, “A lot of people do.”
I added, “I’m afraid we all do.”
Eric flinched and admitted, “You got me!”
I assured Eric, “I wasn’t alluding to you. I was alluding to me.”
Then Eric smiled and said, “I guess we got each other…But God sees everything. You can’t hide from Him.”
There’s a grave danger of becoming religiously sophisticated and spiritually tame; of displaying a persona instead of being a real person. I like how one of my favorite Christian writers describes it, “The voice of the turtle dove was rarely heard in the land; instead, the parrot sat on his artificial perch and dutifully repeated what he had been taught, and the whole emotional tone was somber and dull.” (Keys to the Deeper Life; A.W. Tozer).
You know, just as He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden after they sinned, God is inviting us to step out from behind our defenses and pretenses and stand naked before Him. Let’s dare to step out; all we have to lose is our guilt and shame.
“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7)