Getting real about life

Hello GRC –

Early last week I learned that the dad, Mr. K, who lived across the street from my childhood home, was in hospice after a severe stroke. His son was an older friend who taught me how to throw every kind of ball. Mr. K made for us the legendary go-kart that whooped all the older boys’ go-karts in one epic summer race.  He had the most perfect lawn I ever saw and manicured it with a beat-up old push mower and lots of love.  Mr. K was dying at JFK Hospital where I used to push a candy and newspaper cart down hallways as a volunteer.  I was never comfortable there, walking past sadness, suffering and death.  My wise wife told me I should just go, and I did.  I’m a pastor; I should think of such things but I needed her to tell me in that moment.

I hadn’t seen Mrs. K in years.  As I walked into the room, she took a moment to put face-to-name, walked over to the entrance to the room, and utterly melted.  “Oh Peter, what am I going to do?”  I just hugged, cried, and said nothing.

She knew my mom and our family had gone through a sudden loss of my father only 6 years ago.  Our dads were a lesson in contrasts.  He, a Navy veteran, pure NJ blue-collar, the definition of meat-and-potatoes.  My dad, the Chinese guy with the accent, proud of his dandelion-infested lawn, always trying to get his neighbors to eat something strange.  But there was mutual respect between men who were devoted to family and integrity.

We sat down, and she began to reminisce, finding some comfort in talking about her husband and my dad. Then Mrs. K, who hadn’t been to church in decades, asked me if I would say a blessing.

What an honor: to speak of the Lord, in a time of great pain, need, and vulnerability. Over the years, I’ve learned to refrain from silly platitudes that are often spoken to grieving family and friends.  (And in my experience counseling grieving family, to grant grace to many who just don’t know what to say).  But there’s always goodness, hope and healing in lifting up the grieving in prayer; in praising the God who has conquered sin and death through the cross and resurrection of the Son; in asking for mercy for the dying, though I’m always careful to avoid giving false hope “for there is no other name under heaven, given to men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).

More hugs and tears as the reality of good-byes set in, and a promise to continue praying for the family.  I left drained, yet filled.  With what?  With a Spirit-sharpened reminder of what’s most important: friends and spiritual family.

In times like this, you’re also reminded of what’s most important. Don’t sweep those thoughts away so quickly.  And don’t wait for those life-defining moments.  What can you do? Shed much of the busy-ness of life. “Throw off everything that hinders you” (Heb 12:1) from chasing after Christ, from reveling in His promises, from aiming at your sin, from thinking about what is eternal and therefore, of greatest value.

We’re all too busy, and so much is of our own doing.  Prosperity brings with it more demands on time and money.  Kids are drowning in constant activity which robs the family of rich-yet-mundane relationship around the dinner table or coffee table, let alone reflection of that which is unseen.  Every buzz or chime of the phone demands attention.  We play meaningless games, watch meaningless shows, spend money on unnecessary things, as if any of that could make us happy or bring us meaning.  We act as if time is not a most-precious gift.

A hospice somehow brings a dose of sudden clarity about what’s most important, now and forever.  Life and death.  The love of family and friends.  The question of what your life is all about, and what impact you’ll leave, if any. But the matter of highest, first, primary importance?  “That Christ died for our sins… that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Do you believe this?  If not, place your faith in Jesus before your hospice days arrive.  And if you do already believe, then let’s live life according to these truths that make all else fade into utter irrelevance!

Grace to you,

Peter Wang,  Senior Pastor of GRC for 13 years