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The Fear of God’s Rejection too
All the passages below are taken from William H. Griffith’s book, “More than a Parting Prayer---Lessons in Care-giving for the Dying.” It was published in 2004.
If we ...can help the patient and his family to get "in tune" to each other's needs ...we can help to avoid much unnecessary agony and suffering on the part of the dying and even more so on the part of the family that is left behind.
ON MY PAGER WAS a message with the name of a patient with AIDS and a telephone number to call to confirm the patient's request for a pastoral counselor. The person who answered the telephone was not the patient, but a man who identified himself as Theodore. He confirmed that the patient, Michael, was expecting a pastoral counselor, and he gave me directions to their condominium. Theodore said that when I arrived there would be someone at the desk in the lobby who could direct me to their condo, or I could use my cell phone and call for someone to meet me in the lobby.
The twenty-minute drive gave me the opportunity to anticipate what the needs of the patient might be, as this was not a typical call. When I arrived, I was greeted in the lobby by a man named James, a friend of both Michael's and Theodore's. We went to the condo, and Michael's friends called for him. James apologized for the apartment being a mess, explaining that they had just moved in the day before and had a lot of unpacking to do.
Michael came into the living room and introduced himself. His glassy eyes indicated that he was either in pain or on heavy painkillers---or possibly both. He reached out his hand and thanked me for coming. He said, "I'd like to find a private place for us to talk." Theodore suggested that we go to the fitness room down the hall.
I helped Michael walk down the hall to the fitness room, where there were several tables at the end of the room. We sat across from each other.
"I feel so abandoned," Michael said, in a deep Southern drawl. And then he began to sob. He continued, "I've been abandoned all my life, ever since I was a teenager."
Michael continued to sob as he told me that, as a teenager, he'd lost a friend, in fact his lover, to AIDS. He went on to say that people had been abandoning him ever since. "My momma and daddy don't understand me. I call my momma, and she tells me all I ever have is bad news so don't call. My daddy's dead as far as I'm concerned, because he's a lying preacher who doesn't begin to know what it means to love. I even feel like God's abandoned me.... Why does God let this all happen to me?"
It was clear to me that to this point Michael had had a very difficult life, a very troubled life that resulted in decisions he now regretted. I focused on my role of ministering to him in his time of need as opposed to judging or questioning how he'd gotten to this point.
We sat in silence for a few moments, and then I said, "Michael, I don't presume to know the answer to your question. I wish I had an answer. Is there anything good happening to you at all?"
Michael responded by saying that at least he had a few friends, including James and Theodore. After a few moments of silence, I asked, "Michael, why did you want to see a pastoral counselor?"
"I don't know. I guess I want to be sure that God really does love me even though I get angry at him, because he doesn't seem to show it. I guess it's because I'm scared, and I don't want to die. I love God, and I know God knows I love him."
"How familiar are you with the Bible?" I asked.
"I know the Bible, and I've read it all my life. That's how I know God does love me, but I just need someone to tell me he really does love me," Michael said as he began to sob harder.
I shared some Scriptures with Michael about God's love and about God's promises to never give up on us. I asked him if he would claim those promises and accept God's love and forgiveness. He assured me that he had accepted God's love and forgiveness, and he asked me to pray with him.
After we had prayed, we went back to the condo, and I said my good-byes and took the elevator down to the lobby. As I drove to my next call, I reflected on Michael, his lifestyle, and his experience of faith. I was again made aware of how different the situations are to which I am called, yet how similar in that people desire to have the assurance that they are not alone as they face their deaths. They want to be reassured that God cares about them, and they want to hear that from another person whom they trust.
Several weeks passed, and then one Saturday morning I saw Michael's name on the patient board of one of our units. When I entered his room, I could see that he was still battling the pain of his disease, but he was alert and turned his head to greet me. I reminded him who I was, and he said, "I remember."
After a brief conversation to get reacquainted, I asked him, "Has anything good been happening to you since I saw you last?"
He started to cry and said, "Yes, I talked with my daddy last night, and he told me he loves me."
As he continued to cry, I said, "That must be about the best news you've heard lately."
"That's the only good news I've heard lately," he responded. He went on to say, without explanation, that Theodore and James had "given up" on him, leaving him pretty much alone.
"I hope you haven't forgotten the Scriptures we shared together last time that remind us that God never gives up on us."
"No," he said, "I haven't forgotten, but I still have times when I doubt it. Will you pray for me?"
Following the prayer, I said good-bye. Michael's spiritual journey was a struggle with past decisions and relationships that he longed to resolve before he died, even though he knew they would not all be resolved. His journey held a mixture of hope that his suffering would stop and a fear that when it did, he might discover that God had also given up on him. Can the valley of the shadow get much darker than that?
Lessons for Caregivers
Some people may never fully find the peace that they are looking for before they die. Some may never have the hurtful relationships in their lives resolved. Some may never fully accept the truth that they know in their minds regarding the beliefs they have been taught. Some desire to be free from the painful process of dying, but the fear of what is in store for them after death creates a great deal of anxiety.
The caregiver who sits with such a person will feel the helplessness of having little to offer that will change the circumstances for the dying patient. The great temptation for the caregiver will be to stay away from such a situation because there is little satisfaction in not having any answers. But to stay away is to reinforce the patient's feeling of being abandoned. When a person experiences loneliness and estrangement from parents and friends, it is easy for him to reach the conclusion that God will also abandon him. A foundational knowledge of the Scriptures seems to be a two-edged sword for a person like this. He finds promises in the Scriptures that he wants to claim, but these promises may be mixed with a sense that he feels he may face rejection.
Caregivers providing reminders of those Scriptures can help to reinforce the truth of God's love and care, although the caregiver must remember that such torment of the spirit cannot be relieved by a simple quote from Scripture. Michael is not unlike many others who approach death and have no one who cares. As caregivers, we learn from them that their greatest need is not to have someone provide answers to questions, but to have someone to be present and share their struggle to the extent possible. [84-87]
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