Note from CM: I have an extraordinarily busy week since I’m covering for our other chaplain’s caseload as well as my own. So, on Mon-Wed I’m re-posting some of my favorite stories and reflections from my work as a hospice chaplain. If I don’t get to clear comments that get held right away, please be patient. I’ll do my best.
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Many plans are in a man’s heart,
But the counsel of the Lord will stand.
What is desirable in a man is his kindness…
• Proverbs 19:21-22, NASB
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I stand on top of a rise in the road. Before me, a valley stretches, still shrouded in fog. Behind me, the sun has burned its way clear and I can see the ways I’ve come. I can make out a few of the sharper turns, various forks and crossroads where I chose this way or that for one reason or another, spots along the way where the road disappeared into a dark wood, then emerged on scenery wholly new. Well past halfway on my journey, I’ve forgotten more than I remember, and some of what I recall I don’t trust. In some ways I’m more sure of my path, in other ways I’ve never been less able to plot my course.
This week I will officiate the funeral of an old friend. Several years ago, our families attended the same church and we were part of the same social small group. We spent New Year’s Eves together, played cards, laughed a lot, and talked about our families and work. A simple guy, he didn’t talk much, and wasn’t much of churchgoer. We weren’t close, but I was there as a pastor and friend at some important times, and he always seemed genuinely happy to have us in his home. About my age, now he’s gone. Over the years, we’ve only seen each other rarely, and he and the family have had their struggles: finances, house problems, mental illness in the family. Last I heard he and his wife were getting divorced, he had a girlfriend, and it wasn’t pretty. Complications from a chronic health condition took his life suddenly and unexpectedly last week.
And I get to speak words of “wisdom” to comfort his family and friends at the funeral.
Which is a funny thing, because at this point in the journey, I’m not sure I know what wisdom is. I have some hindsight, for sure, and plenty of experience. Maybe that qualifies. I have a deeper trust in the sovereignty of God than ever before, but it is not the kind of trust that can be expressed in “answers.” The thought of God’s sovereignty is like the fog in the valley ahead of me — a mystery that envelops the world but obscures my view. To think that I would appeal to such a concept as comfort for myself or others seems kind of crazy, to tell the truth. People don’t generally expect the guy down in the mail room to be able to delineate the intricate decisions of the CEO. About all I can say is, “I have no idea how to explain it, but I guess he knows what he’s doing.”
Recently we saw another couple who had been members of a congregation where I served on staff in the past. We haven’t really talked for about ten years. They’ve been to three different churches since then. Their son now tours with a punk band and they didn’t seem interested in going into details. They did want to discuss how the husband is making plans for retirement, and since they have been very diligent about money matters, it looks like they’ll move to the Rockies and live the dream. They seemed reasonably happy, but you never know.
On one level, I’m not a big fan of the book of Proverbs. Read in certain ways, it cannot help but promote self-righteousness. Dividing the world into “wise people” and “fools” leaves little room for nuance. Pharisees love it because it organizes life neatly into divinely demarcated divisions and makes the rules and rewards clear. It is elder brother theology par excellence. It scoffs when the silly, sentimental old man loses his mind and runs out to welcome home the wastrel.
A guy with whom I used to coach Little League told me the other day his son and girlfriend and new baby are moving into their house for awhile. It will be a crowded situation with many opportunities for irritation, conflict, and hurt feelings. Been there, done that. I know they didn’t expect this, and I’m sure they are wondering where this will all lead. They have a good spirit about it (or at least they put on a good face about it), and I hope to spend more time with them in days to come. They are some of my favorite people in the world, and I’d love to be a friend and an encouragement if possible.
In the end, I guess that’s what I will say at my friend’s funeral. The world is broken, and I don’t have a lot of wisdom to offer. I won’t pretend to tell you what God is doing. But I know that love is real. I’m here to be your friend today, and I want to encourage you to be friends to each other. That’s how Jesus showed his love to us — by befriending us and laying down his life for us. We’re here to do the same for one another.
It’s foggy ahead, and the way is not clear.
Take a hand and enter the fog together.
Don’t let go.