Lena was one of the most attentive, devoted and loving caregivers and mothers I’ve known. Nearly 80 years old, she provided 24 hour care to her bed ridden 54-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Lena slept on a hard tile floor beside Charlotte’s hospital bed in Charlotte’s efficiency apartment. When I encouraged Lena to sleep on the couch she declined, stating, “I want to be as close to Charlotte as possible so I can hear her if she needs anything.” So Hospice provided a small cot to place beside Charlotte’s hospital bed.
Lena and Charlotte were Christians and typically talked about God’s goodness, about their faith in Him. But during one of my visits the spiritual tone was somber, as if a cold mist had settled upon their hearts and faith. Lena was deeply disturbed. She showed me a book she’d been reading on the Holy Spirit and healing, from which she concluded, “If only I had enough faith Charlotte would be healed. After all, the Bible does say you only need faith the size of a mustard seed, doesn’t it? I guess I just don’t have enough faith.” Lena started crying and I thought, “It’s not fair, not only is Lena losing her only child, but now she feels she’s a failure as a Christian and mother.” We talked, we searched, we struggled, and we debated. I wanted to take her burden away, but couldn’t. I suspect that she sensed that I was also struggling to define what I really believed. You know, it’s easy to proclaim boldly what you believe when standing on the mountaintop, but things look and feel a lot different in “the valley of the shadow “.
I was still wrestling with my definition of faith when I pulled into the parking lot of their apartment building the following week. By now I was almost angry about the burden of guilt and shame that Lena was shouldering, but what could I say to dispel and relieve it? That was the question I asked God as I sat in my car and prayed. The thought came to mind, “Read Hebrews chapter 11”. So I pulled my Bible off the dashboard of my car and commenced reading about the “elders” of the Christian faith, the saints that had gone before us: “By faith Abel offered… Noah prepared… Abraham obeyed and …he went out not knowing where he was going… These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed they were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth. For those who say such things declare they plainly seek a homeland “(Hebrews 11:13-14)
I realized that in the entire eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, typically considered “the faith chapter”, that there wasn’t a single example of mustering up enough confidence to make things happen, of “naming it and claiming it”. The elders offered, prepared, obeyed, stepped out, and considered themselves pilgrims and strangers. I realized that true faith defined and exemplified is embracing the heart of a pilgrim.
I want to clarify that the Bible does encourage us to seek and pray for healing, but healing is not the proof or measure of our faith. I believe when we lead someone to believe so we “…bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4)
Lena, Charlotte and I celebrated as we read and discussed Hebrews chapter 11 that day. We thanked God that life is more than what happens to us here. And Lena was freed of her burden of guilt and shame that day because “The truth will make you free” (John 8:32)
I’ve observed that life seems to progress in developmental stages with corresponding challenges. And for many of the patients I work with in hospice, their final challenge is of shifting their hope from the physical to the spiritual, from the temporal to the eternal. I’ve also observed that without a spiritual and eternal perspective on life that circumstances can overwhelm and discourage us. So if you are in need of a little hope and faith right now, I encourage you to dig out a Bible and read chapters 11 and 12 of the book of Hebrews; because, “…faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
You can read this and other published columns at www.lorenhardin.com.