Journey at the End of Life
Jodie believes her training for the Kingdom began when she joined the U.S. Army as a combat medic. She graduated from Rhema Bible Training College in 1990. In 1991 she and her former husband pastored a thriving church for twenty years in a rural town in Michigan. During this time, she spent most of her time developing and equipping leaders, leading mission teams and speaking at women’s events. She went back to college receiving certification in Mental Health Rehabilitation and Clinical Pastoral Education. In 2013, she founded Reach Ministries International, a 501(c)3 organization that continues to bring the Gospel to the poorest of the poor throughout the nations. Currently, she is also on staff at MidMichigan Health as a Hospice Chaplain.
In addition to her international efforts, she recently has begun to offer workshops to enrich pastoral care in the local church. She brings a fresh practicality to ministry as well as humor and real-life stories to encourage all who hear to reach beyond their own borders to bring a message of hope to a hurting world. Jodie and her husband Matt reside on a small lake in Mid-Michigan. You can learn more about Jodie, her workshops and international efforts at www.youcanreach.org. or email her directly at email@example.com. Journey at the end of life…I mused when I first put this statement on paper. Yet, over the years I have seen it play out in countless ways. The word “journey” is a big buzzword these days, but it’s usually not associated with end of life.
Unless we die an instantaneous death, it is a journey we will all be forced to face, with very little preparation, skills, resources or past experiences to guide us through. Honestly, when was the last time you searched your favorite bookstore for resources on how to die strong? Again, even those two words do not naturally fall together.
I have learned, the journey at end of life is truly the most spiritual time in a person’s path. Whether one holds a faith background or not, there will be a time of searching, wondering, questioning and doubting that will flood the heart of the afflicted. In addition, the family and friends of the one who is facing end of life are profoundly affected as well.
It is in these times, when the local church can rise with compassion and effectiveness and profoundly minister to entire families. I am convinced that if properly equipped, the church can bring tremendous strength and beauty to an often-tumultuous time. After all, it’s not about dying, it’s about living strong, for however many days remain. Should not the Church be skillful in reaching those who are facing the most spiritual time in their lives?
How do you live strong, even at the end of life?
As a former pastor for twenty years, I would contend that we held a strong pastoral care team, comprised of both paid and volunteer staff. Whether, a crisis premature delivery, a tragic accident, or a terminal illness we were ready to dispatch people, to pray and bring aide to those facing life crisis. Yet, there was so much more I wish we had known.
Earlier this year, I attended an event for ministers in my area. At the end of the day there was a time set aside for questions and answers. I was armed and ready. I wasn’t surprised when mine was the first one that was drawn. “What does the local church have in place to minister to those who are facing end of life?” There was an awkward silence as the panel looked at each other for an answer. Finally, the host and most seasoned pastor simply said, “Not much, but we do funerals and funeral dinners really well!” It was a unanimous feeling from all who were on the panel that this area needed some attention.
Thank God for funeral dinners, right? Yet, what about the days and months that lead a person to this point?
- Who is there to listen as they sift through their wonderings, regrets, anger, and deep sadness?
- Who will be the one who is willing to sit quietly with no other agenda than to be present?
- How will we answer some of their hardest questions?
- What do we do when a family member collapses in our arms overtaken with grief?
- How do we bring comfort to the elderly man preparing to say good-bye to his sweetheart of 63 years?
- What strength can we bring to the one who is emaciated from cancer?
- What will we do when caught in a family conflict regarding whether grandma should go on Hospice or not?
- How can we help families take affirmative action before a crisis ever begins?
- How can we aide a family who has a loved one on life support?
There is no doubt these are some weighty questions, ones that we often avoid in our own lives, let alone venture to address in the life of someone else. The biggest truth I learned in my journey of helping others facing terminal illness, tragedy and crisis is this; it’s not my job to fix it! Oh, what a relief! Oh, what a revelation! You may be laughing right now, but we are all guilty of falling into the fix-it mentality.
The only One that can bring a calm into our chaos is Christ, and Christ alone, let us never forget this truth. When we can let go of the need to fix things, we let go of our agenda and are able to step into another’s journey and simply be present for whatever the need is for that day. We are free to simply “be” with them in the journey.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul exhorts us to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. Notice it does not say “fix” each other’s burdens, it does not say judge one another’s burdens…carry. To carry effectively, we must first let go of some things. We will have to set aside what we might be feeling, or thinking, to let go of our agenda, to embrace another’s burden.
Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus clearly defines what we are to do for those in crisis:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Again, we are not encouraged to figure out why they are hungry or judge them for being in prison. No. Simply be present. Visit, bring food, attend to their fever, offer your coat. One of the most spiritual things we can do is to be present in the midst of great need. No degree necessary, just a willingness to be present.
While we are present with those in crisis, there is a myriad of tools we can access to bring true strength to them in their time of greatest need. We can be compassionate, we can listen, we can linger, we can ask questions, we can be still, we can be empathic, we can be curious, we can cry, and we can laugh. We can learn skills to locate a person’s heart, we can pray, we can read, we can facilitate… a sacred space.
It seems that everything I have experienced in life both personally and first-hand with others, has brought me to a personal “reset” in how I view people in crisis and how I come alongside them. Rich pastoral care is within our reach, like me, it may require a reset in order to truly bring strength to families in crisis. I appreciate the mindset of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.”