Facing Eternity Without FearRev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
She called me with a determined tone in her voice. She wanted me to come by and talk. She did not sound panicked. Yet there was an undeniable sound or resolution in her voice. Lilly was not a whiner – nor was she much into small talk. Whenever she wanted to talk I knew it was important.
I sat down with Lilly at the kitchen table, and she offered me a glass of lemonade. Before she even landed in her chair she announced, “I have cancer and the doctor has given me six months to live.” I knew she wasn’t looking for sympathy. In fact, the announcement came like an opening for a lesson she felt it was time for me to learn. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity for some candid talk with a woman of incredible faith, my interview began and ended with just one question: “How does it feel to know you are going to die?”
A bold question, yes, but Lilly was a remarkable woman. Truly filled with zeal for the Lord she was involved in everything – in the church as well as the community. Her perspective on dying would prove to be invaluable, and her lesson still stays with me to this day.
As though she thought about it her entire life, Lilly articulated three reasons why people are afraid to die:
REASON #1 – A fear of what lies beyond life.
Lilly spent many hours volunteering at the local nursing home. Sometimes while playing bridge or visiting with the residents, she engaged in discussions about life and death. Lilly observed, “Many people fear what lies beyond.”
These people feared the unknown. Having never experienced death they didn’t know what to expect and that frightened them. At such times Lilly turned to God’s Word:
“We will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51,52).
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13,14).
In counseling others, Lilly professed boldly about herself, “Jesus died for my sins and at death I will be with Him in heaven.” She believed it not because of facts and evidence, but because of faith and the confidence she had in God.
REASON #2 – A fear about the path that leads to death.
A diagnosis of a lingering death immediately creates images of declining health, pain, and suffering. At the time of Lilly’s diagnosis the medical community was only scratching the surface in providing adequate and complete pain management. She readily admitted to losing sleep thinking of her own demise and the corresponding loss of quality of life near its end. Then she recalled an opening devotion given at a Ladies’ Guild meeting. It was based on the following passage:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
In characteristic candor Lilly told me, “I was afraid of the dying process. I was afraid of seeing my life diminish slowly and perhaps even painfully. But then I thought, “Weeks or months of decline versus an eternity of glory with God – I can make it.”
Lilly exhibited one of the Christian faith’s greatest attributes: the ability to look ahead, eternally, without getting lost in the moment. As she expounded on the temporal nature of life, and even life’s miseries, she recalled its perspective in light of God’s Word:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
With eternal life lying at death’s door, she could not rationalize any feelings of anguish over the prospect of some end-of-life suffering. “Because God’s there, I will be OK.” It took a few days for her to wrestle with the emotions, but in the end, she placed her hope and confidence in God. She did not fear the declining quality of her life as death approached.
REASON #3 – A fear about who will take care of family that is left behind.
Lilly was incredible. She was unwavering in her conviction that, though life ends in death, it brings life in Christ. Yes, she worried some about the dying process. But, as she thought it through and sought out God’s direction in His Word, she was not about to be intimidated.
Lilly did have one fear: “Who will take care of my husband when I am gone?” She had a wonderfully kind and cordial husband. Though older and often in poorer health than Lilly, he often doted over her. She worried whether anyone would be able to care for her husband after she was gone.
Lilly’s husband was a unique challenge. He was a Christian but rarely attended church. While accepting of her diagnosis he was nevertheless rattled by what it would mean for him in the coming months. “Now,” Lilly wondered, “what will happen when I am gone?”
We explored different options but one thing became clear. In her volunteer work and zeal to help others she had not really developed any close friendships. They had no children and there didn’t seem to be anyone ready to step in to help care for her aging husband.
That realization led to the sad conclusion that even within her own Christian community she couldn’t find the confidence that her unchurched husband would be taken care of. With her stern and arthritic finger Lilly pointed at me and said, “You make sure someone watches out for him.”
Though the doctor gave Lilly a prognosis of six months of life, God had a different plan. Three months after her diagnosis, she went to the hospital for tests. In the middle of the night her life was taken by a massive stroke.
Lilly was confident to the last moment that upon death she would be before God’s throne. She did not experience much decline in the quality of her life. She was prepared for it yet spared of it. For her husband, a network of support was created. Members of the congregation learned of Lilly’s third fear of death and went into action to alleviate it.
Several decades have passed since Lilly’s lesson on life and death. In her candid testimonial she taught me a perspective that I replay in countless cases. Her faith, too, remains a legacy for me to share and to emulate – a faith that faces eternity without fear.
CLR NOTE: This is the first of a four-part series on end-of-life issues.
Forward in Christ Magazine, November 2005
Article Shortcut: http://www.christianliferesources.com?5726
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