Recently, I bought a 24-foot motorhome from a dealer specializing in the “gently used.” Before we drove it off the lot, a service technician walked us through to demonstrate that everything was working properly.
However, when we got it home, we discovered a propane problem that rendered all the appliances unworkable — no heat, stove or generator.
Now, two months later, I still have no working generator, but I do have a full-blown case of buyer’s remorse. You likely know the feeling. It’s that moment you suddenly realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods that you can’t afford to believe.
My remorseful feeling is somewhat related to what I thought I was sensing recently from a patient entering the end stage of her life.
The woman was approaching her 90th birthday when I sat beside her hospital bed for introductions. At first, she tried dismissing me by telling me she was a life-long atheist. However, something clicked between us, and she invited me back for several more visits.
Not unlike the book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” we enjoyed some deep conversations, and I came to know a woman who showed little regret about her life.
She raised two loving daughters and made a good life for herself. However, she grew up in Hitler’s Germany and claimed good reasons to doubt God’s existence. She’d seen the imprisonment of relatives and the death of countless Jews. She’d had a childhood harassed by hunger and haunted by grief.
On my third visit, she posed a question she was considering. “Do you think there’s something after this life?”
Let me interrupt my narration for a moment to explain just how rare a moment like this is for a health care chaplain. Chaplains don’t proselytize people, but we can honestly respond to specific questions about God.
So, let me ask you a question: “If you’d been in my size 12 shoes, what would you have told the woman?”
Take this moment to look away and compose your answer. Then come back to the column.
Of course, the options are too numerous to tabulate, but if you’re among those who hear this as opportunity to convert the woman, let me assure you that I didn’t take that tact.
“Why not?” you ask. Take another moment and consider what the woman was really saying.
Yes, it’s possible she was remorseful for buying into atheism and was now hoping for a life raft to escape the Lake of Fire. Not likely though. She had too much integrity for that. My guess is that she was asking something much deeper.
My best guess is that she was saying, “I’ve seen a lot of people die, and I need to see a purpose.” Even more likely, she was saying, “If there is a God, will he be loving? Will he accept me the way I am — doubts and all?”
I smiled at the woman. “You know I believe there’s something after this.”
She nodded. “Do you think I’ll know that I’m dead?” she asked.
“I think you’ll know a loving presence,” I said.
She returned my smile with the satisfying warmth of a setting summer sun.
Her questions helped her to voice a healthy mixture of faith and doubt, but only because our visits had helped her to feel safe asking those questions.
Of course, I also know there are times when you need complete answers, as when I called my RV dealer to ask when my repairs would be finished.
“Good question,” the service adviser said. “We’re still waiting on some parts.”
I guess that’s what’s called a “part-ial answer.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and the author of “No Small Miracles.” He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at (321) 549-2500 or email him at [email protected] or visit his website at www.thechaplain.net. Write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA, 95759.