This is part four of a series about Tom, a 68-year-old hospice patient with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). As I wrote in part one of this series, “Ten foot tall and bullet proof,” according to Tom’s wife, Faye, Tom is a modern day renaissance man. Faye, recounted, “He always said he wanted to try everything.” They’ve moved 25 times during their 50 years of marriage. Tom is a skilled mechanic, he owned and operated tractor-trailer rigs, he was a minister and pastor, he rode motorcycles, he was an excellent tennis player and, Faye claimed, “He could have been a professional bowler.”
Faye continued, “We’ve lived in the best of houses and worn the best of clothes.” But their lives are much different now. Tom’s chronic illness has exhausted them financially. Now they barely survive from month to month. They don’t have transportation, because they can’t afford to repair their van. And they financially can’t keep up with basic home maintenance and repairs. Faye said that for a few years, their living room ceiling leaked during heavy rains. “We placed buckets all around the room and imagined we were being serenaded by the rain hitting the buckets. We still had a sense of humor. And we are more thankful now than ever. We are happier here than anywhere.”
I started out viewing Tom as a patient, then a fellow pilgrim, and now as a friend and spiritual brother. And my relationship with Tom has proven the following proverb to be true, “As iron sharpens iron, so does a man his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)
In case you haven’t been following Tom’s story, I’ll summarize. Tom’s shared insights about humility, stating, “You have to see who you are and who God is.” He’s shared about patience, that “God can make something good come out of everything, but for some things, you may have to wait an eternity.” And lastly, Tom shared about the importance of being a discriminating listener, a “man of understanding.”
I thought I’d completed this series until I visited Tom yesterday and he shared, “God’s been telling me, ‘You’ve listened to Me with your ears. Now I want you to listen to Me with your heart.’” I asked Tom what the difference was, and he explained, “When you listen with your ears, you use your mind. When you listen with your heart, you use your spirit. Your mind tries to justify itself. Your mind judges, but your heart loves. And out of the abundance of your heart, your mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) Tom pointed out how we can misuse our minds to filter or censor God, and how we can rationalize and intellectualize to justify our positions, to prove we’re “right.”
I confessed to Tom that I’m not worthy to “cast the first stone” (John 8:7), because I stand guilty myself. Tom responded, “You and about five billion other people. We all are.” Then it got downright real and personal, in both directions. I won’t share Tom’s part, but I will mine. I told Tom about how my friend, Gregg, and I mutually committed to praying more for our wives and to hold one another accountable. After our men’s meeting at church last Saturday, I complained to Gregg about some disappointments in our marriage. Gregg’s response reflected his commitment to hold me accountable; “Loren, when you get right down to it, love is always in spite of something, isn’t it?” Immediately, I realized that all differences don’t have to be worked out — they can be understood, accepted, respected and even appreciated. Immediately, I realized how selfish and self righteous I’ve been — that I’ve only been listening with my ears and not with my heart.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ discourse with the notoriously self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe … and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:3) Apparently they, too, only listened with their ears and not with their hearts.
When we only listen with our ears to justify ourselves, we end up with self righteousness. When we listen to God with our hearts and obey, we end up with holiness and godliness. In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a nugget from my friend, Jerry: “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than it is to be right?”
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at [email protected] You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.