A new study by the American Heart Association says positive mental health and generally staying optimistic about life can reduce a person’s chances of developing heart disease. The expression “healthy mind, healthy body” might have some scientific backing. “A person’s mind, heart and body are all interconnected and interdependent in what can be termed ‘the […]
The room was silent except for the hum of the machines, the rhythmic blip of the heart monitor, and quiet cadence of dad’s breathing. He had a massive heart attack a few days prior and never regained consciousness. With no hope of recovery, doctors recommended terminating life support.
Sitting beside his bed, we waited for the inevitable. Several profound truths surfaced during that sacred time.
First, none of us causes our own hearts to beat. We’re not in control. Far from it.
Second, relationship runs deep. We’re more connected than we know.
Third, life is incredibly fragile. Here one moment and gone the next.
Dad died that night.
We’ve all experienced loss. Each death reminds us that we’re not going to be here forever. Our time is limited. Anything could happen, anytime, anywhere.
This can be frightening. It can also be tremendously motivating. It all depends on how we look at it. Living with the end in mind is key to a spiritually fruitful life.
In other words, embracing our own mortality can be a good thing.
Serving as a hospice chaplain and grief counselor has been a great honor. Living daily in the presence of death and grief has been transforming. Hospice patients are on the rim of the canyon. This life is ebbing away, and they are peering ahead to what’s next. Many have a new sense of clarity.
Here are 10 spiritual truths from the lips of those living on the edge of this life.
1. Get out of your own head.
Sam was a retired civil servant. He had given his life to the betterment of neighborhoods, schools, and communities.
“Selfishness seems to be rampant. We must fight against this, or it will sink us, ” Sam shared. “Frankly, we must get out of our own heads.”
We live in a digital world of screens and selfies. Our hearts, however, are relational.
Created in the image of God, we’re wired for connection and designed for relationship. We begin expressing this the moment we come out of the womb.
In Philippians, Paul encourages us to do nothing out of selfish ambition, but rather to value others above ourselves. These words seem alien, cutting against the grain of the current era. If loving others is our goal, we’re must get out of our own heads. Self cannot be our focus if we’re going to live meaningfully for the greater good.
“Too much is at stake. We must live larger,” Sam said.
2. Quit pretending.
“Pleasing people – that’s what life was about.” Maggie said. “Crazy. Futile. Impossible.”
We learn to don masks early. We become adept observers of the world around us. We figure out how to get what we think our needs are met in the most efficient ways possible. We become relational chameleons, changing our colors according to what’s demanded, when, and by whom.
Deep inside, our hearts scream to be seen and heard. Surrounded by people, we can feel invisible. No one really knows us. We wonder if we know ourselves.
In Christ, we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). We’re not an improved version of the old self, but entirely new people with a new mission and purpose. Now that Christ is our life, we are secure. We can be real and authentic. Living from our hearts is now a possibility.
“God made you. Go be you,” Maggie said with a smile.
3. God was seeking me.
Richard was in his mid-forties and suffered from ALS. His life was riddled with abuse, alcohol, drugs, and tragedy. He lost his parents, a child, two marriages, his career, and his health.
For decades, Richard blamed God. As his life was draining away, his heart turned.
“God hadn’t rejected me. He was pursuing me all the time,” he shared.
At some point, usually through a sense of brokenness, we begin to seek God. When we find him, we discover that he was seeking us.
In Revelation, Jesus tells us he stands at the door and knocks. If we will but open the door, he will come in and empower us to experience his love – the love we have always longed for.
Jesus is always knocking. His love is enduring and relentless. When we allow him to love us, we begin to heal.
“God found me. ALS may be the greatest blessing of my life,” Richard said.
4. Forgive quickly.
The colonel was a Vietnam War vet and a former POW. One day the topic turned to forgiveness, and he got noticeably agitated and emotional.
“Humans can be incredibly cruel,” he said, shaking. “Forgiveness is non-negotiable. Otherwise, the evil of what happened poisons my heart.”
We’ve all been wounded. If we’re not careful, these injuries can take over and drive our lives.
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he included the phrase, “Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We’re told throughout the Scriptures to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Forgiving doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. It mattered deeply. Forgiving doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. It might have been devastating. Forgiving means releasing the other person so that what they did no longer holds our heart hostage. Forgiveness frees us to love and protects our souls from bitterness.
“Don’t let evil invade your heart. Forgive,” The colonel concluded.
5. Fear will paralyze your soul.
Paula came from a horrific background of sexual abuse. She turned inward early, trying to find a way to survive what was happening to her and around her.
“The goal was to make myself as small as possible – preferably invisible,” she said. “Worry and fear were constant companions. Hiding was a coping skill that developed into a way of life.”
The most common command in the Bible is, “Fear not.” God knows that fear drives us into hiding. It happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and it happens with us – probably every day.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me,” Jesus said. When fear comes calling, we can choose to respond in trust and faith. We don’t have to be trapped by it or allow it to control our hearts and minds.
Paula’s advice? “Fear will paralyze your soul. Don’t let that happen.”
6. Guilt is not your friend.
Patsy’s two sons were killed as teens in a tragic accident. She blamed herself. She shouldn’t have let them go. She should’ve been there.
Guilt invaded her heart and took up residence. Food became her drug of choice to deaden the pain. Next was alcohol. Guilt’s grip strengthened. She began to hear guilt’s accusations in her own voice.
Now that Patsy was dying of cancer, her heart began to cry out for healing.
“Guilt has been a plague on me and my family. It’s time to release all this. Guilt didn’t bring my boys back. It only succeeded in making me miserable,” she shared.
Guilt profits no one. It tends to be nebulous. Like a cloud, it lingers. A nagging, persistent weight, it can keep us from living.
“Guilt is not your friend. Send him packing. When he knocks, don’t open the door,” Patsy said.
7. Life isn’t about you.
“Life was all about me. Self-focused. Self-centered. Self-everything,” Stephanie shared.
Stephanie was battling ovarian cancer and was declining rapidly. With two children under the age of eight, she was doing everything she could to prepare them for what was coming. She recorded videos for them to watch at certain ages and times in the future. She sat with her husband for hours, talking about anything and everything.
Jesus said, “He who would save his life will lose it. But he who loses his life for me and my sake will find it.” A self-centered life leads nowhere. We strain and strive for control, only to have things and people slip through our fingers. Jesus reminds us that life is about him. When we make him our center and focus, life begins to make sense.
“Life isn’t about you. Quit living small. Find God. Live his purpose for you,” Stephanie concluded.
8. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
“Mom kept talking about the Golden Rule,” Sally shared. “She was set on us being be kind and generous. She believed love could overcome anything. She was right.”
Sally suffered from severe COPD. She gasped for breath after every sentence.
Even with all this, she was hospitable and kind. She refused to let hardship or disease stunt the power of her mother’s teaching. Love had overcome every obstacle.
Both Sally and her mom were repeating the words of Christ himself. They modeled their lives after Christ’s. When we live out the truth that we’re created for relationship with God and each other, good things happen. We live our mission. We become the reflections of Christ we were designed to be.
“Treat others the way you want to be treated, and your heart will thank you – even if they don’t,” Sally said.
9. Quit trying to be right.
“My life was spent trying to be right,” Carl shared. “Heaven knows how many people were wounded and alienated as a result.”
“Insecurity drove me to prove myself. Anger brewed inside. Childhood was traumatic. Everyone else got the brunt of it.”
We all tend to project our stuff onto other people. Anger always seeks a target. Chips appear on our shoulders. We start looking for arguments. Afraid of being vulnerable, we can’t afford to be wrong.
“Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know,” the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians. He also said, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” When our knowledge doesn’t lead to love, what have we accomplished?
It’s time to stop projecting and start loving. Proving ourselves right often lands us in lonely places.
Carl said, “Quit trying to be right. Focus on being loving instead.”
10. Life is about relationships.
“Work, work, and more work. That was life. It was lonely beyond belief.” Frank shared.
Frank’s brain tumor was advancing, and his speech was getting more difficult to decipher. His eyes said it all, however – especially when his family was around. His delight in his kids and grandchildren was obvious.
Life is about people.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus summed the spirit of the entire Old Testament in these two statements. Love God. Love people. Focus on relationships. All else matters little in the end.
Frank got it. Though his physical life was slowly ebbing away, he seemed more alive than ever before. Discovering who we are and why we’re here will do that.
“Life is all about relationships. Never, ever forget that. Invest in people. They last forever,” he said.
We’re all living on the edge. We’re all on the rim of the canyon. None of us knows exactly how close to the edge we are.
Don’t let this discourage you. Instead, let this fact spur you on to loving more deeply and living with greater purpose. Let your own mortality become the fuel for overcoming obstacles, enduring hardships, serving more meaningfully, and relating with more compassion and love than ever before.
Live with the end in mind. You’ll be glad you did.
Award-winning author, speaker, and grief specialist Gary Roe is a compassionate and trusted voice in grief-recovery who has been bringing comfort, hope, encouragement, and healing to hurting, wounded hearts for more than 30 years. Click here to get a free excerpt of his new book, Comfort for Grieving Hearts. For more information visit www.garyroe.com.