A Series of Unfortunate Events
The first week of 2023 saw me in attendance at 4 funeral events. I hope this maxes my quota for the year, what a dispiriting start it was. Only one of the four could be considered joyful. That was the funeral for a 91-year-old who lived a full, joyous, faithful life and was surrounded at her death by a large and loving family. Her service was a joyous celebration that brought together many in her faith community.
The other 3 services were commemorating lives that were ended too soon and left behind many grieving souls, who must now struggle on without those whom they thought they would be with for many more years to come.
This is not a jeremiad against death or a complaint to God about these sorts of unfortunate things. I long ago stopped asking why these things occur and instead focus on the question of “what now?”. One of the “what now?” things to think about is the impact these people had in your life. In these cases I knew none of the deceased particularly well. I was certainly friendly with their loved ones, yet they are not in my close circle of personal friends. Yet, as in all things in God’s Creation, there are lessons to be gleaned, if only we pay attention.
A View From Afar
The most notable lesson I gathered was from the death of the husband of a coworker of my wife. Her husband had struggled with a degenerative disease called Multiple System Atrophy for the past 8 years. This is a rather gruesome disease that slowly robs its victims of their ability to speak, move or breath without assistance. One can only imagine the stress this puts upon families, not to mention the expense.
What struck me about all of this, and it did strike me from a distance because I do not know this family particularly well, is the steadfast care and love that they showed this man as his disease progressed.
This family was fortunate to have enough financial resources to provide a level of care that many could not. That should not diminish the extraordinary efforts that were put to this task. They could have institutionalized this man (or made him a ward of the state) and put it all on autopilot, but they were made of sterner stuff than that.
No, this man’s wife gave herself over to caring for him in a most amazing way. She organized a team of family and professional caregivers and gave herself over to providing the best quality of life for him that she could. I have no doubt whatsoever that she gave him a quality of life that he simply would not have had in the hands of a lesser individual.
I am equally certain that she did all of this not to gain plaudits, earn points with God or even to become the subject of an essay. She did it out of love, driven by faithful perseverance. There was likely no other thought but to do the best she could for him, simply because that is the fully human thing to do.
What seems to me most important here is that we think about what it is we have witnessed. As I said, none of this was done to intentionally impact those watching from afar. It was done to impact those closest in their lives, in this case to care for a dying husband.
Yet, we should think intentionally about what it is we have witnessed. What we see in this case, and in cases like this all over our world is what faith, grace and love looks like in action. We see a response to all that God has given a person and how they use it to love and care for those in our world. We see the outsized efforts and burdens they bear to live out his call to love and care for those in great need. Frankly, this should, upon reflection drive us to our knees in thanks and praise.
What people like this do by their heroic acts of love is to make all who witness it just a little bit better by that witness. They lift all of us up just a little bit higher than we could have gotten on our own. All of us are better off as humans for having seen this faithful love in action. That is an extraordinary gift, even if given unintentionally. This is what living out your faith means, this is what answering God’s call looks like. This is the gift of showing all who see what we as humans are capable of. This shows us what we can be if only we respond to God’s gifts of grace upon grace in such a steadfast and faithful manner.
It is also the gift of giving us the strength to answer God’s call in our own lives. Most of us (prayerfully) will never be faced with such extreme circumstances as this family. Yet, whatever we are faced with we can face with faith and love. We can because we have seen it done. We can see that like this family we are not alone and there are those in this world who will rally around to help us.
None of us would do such a thing in order to be seen, lauded or earn points with God. Yet we will be giving witness to all those who do see this love in action, and will provide them the strength to do the same, and so the circle widens. This is what building the Kingdom of God looks like; one act of love, sacrifice and service at a time-giving silent witness to a faith that perseveres.
Many will claim that Christ is not present in this world. Call bullshit on this immediately. Point to stories like this, and shout “there He is-Christ in our world!”. We have all seen stories like this, we have all been witnesses to this kind of extraordinary love, we can all be lifted higher and made just a bit better by that witness. Then give thanks to God that there are those in this world that believe, then obey.
None of this will remove the pain of the loss this family suffered. My prayerful hope is that knowledge of the impact they had on those who witnessed their extraordinary love (imagine the impact on those who knew them better!), can give them some comfort that the world is a better place for their faithful perseverance. Our role is to keep our eyes, ears and heart open to seeing this kind of Kingdom building in the world then give thanks to God and to the ones who answered God’s call, then go out and do the best we can.
Praise Be to God