Yes, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21 (EHV)
Before I joined Institutional Ministries and started hanging out at a hospital most days of the week, I had very little understanding of medical care and what goes on in hospitals.
My understanding was skewed somewhat by childhood experiences of loved ones going to the hospital and dying there. So, when a 90-year-old member of my congregation was considering going to the hospital for heart valve replacement, I asked him, “Why would you put yourself in this danger?” He looked me square in the eye and said, “Pastor, it’s a win-win situation. If the surgery is successful, I have more time with my wife and family, and if it isn’t, I’m with Jesus in heaven.” Five years later, I shared that story with his family at his memorial service.
Fast forward to today: I visit two 62-year-old women fighting cancer. Both are active, faithful Christians who place their hope and trust in God. One, at the beginning of her journey, states, “If Jesus wants to take me home, I’m good with that.” The other, further along in her journey states, “I want more time. I have important things to do.”
It could be tempting for us to use Paul’s words in Philippians, “Yes, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” to judge the faith of someone else, but these words were a personal expression of Paul’s faith and they shouldn’t be viewed as the required expression of faith for everyone else.
Each person we meet has a history of life experiences which impacts their personal expression of faith. If we are walking with that person, loving that person, as Jesus encourages us, we will be “quick to listen, slow to speak.” The more I listen, the more I learn that we shouldn’t make assumptions about the faith of someone else. The woman who is ready to go to the Lord seems to have a good life and one would think that she would like to stick around. The other, who wants more time, shared that her entire life seems to be one trauma after another and that she still carries the effects of those traumas. Their life experiences are completely different. Ultimately, they both acknowledge that their time is in God’s hands, and they trust in his good and perfect will.
In my chaplaincy group at the hospital, we have a saying that we apply when doing some computer searches: “Less is more.” I would like to apply that to our relationships. The less specific our expectations are of a what a person’s faith should be, the more we will find ourselves experiencing the beauty of God’s grace together.