Lena was one of the most attentive, devoted and loving caregivers and mothers I’ve ever known.
Nearly eighty years old, she provided twenty-four hour care to her bedridden fifty-four 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 graciously 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 for Lena to sleep on beside Charlotte’s hospital bed.
Lena and Charlotte were Christians and testified about God’s goodness and 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 like she’s a failure as a Christian and a mother.” We talked, we searched, we struggled, and we debated. I wanted to take away her burden, but couldn’t. I suspected she sensed that I too was struggling to clarify 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…” (Psalm 23:4)
I was still wrestling with my own personal definition of faith when I pulled into the parking lot of their apartment building the following week.
And by that time I’d become angry about the burden of guilt and shame that Lena was unfairly shouldering; but what could I say to dispel or 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” and the “saints” that had gone before us: “By faith Abel offered… Noah prepared… Abraham obeyed and …he went out not knowing…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 in scripture is embracing the heart of a pilgrim.
Lena, Charlotte and I truly rejoiced 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 finally freed of her burden of guilt and shame that day because, “…the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
“…Old man, hospital bed; the room is filled with people he loves. And he whispers, ‘Don’t cry for me, I’ll see you all someday.’ He looks up and says, ‘I can see God’s face. This is my temporary home; it’s not where I belong, windows and rooms that I’m passing through. This is just a stop on the way to where I’m going. I’m not afraid because I know, this is my temporary home.’”(Temporary Home; recorded by Carrie Underwood)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525