I recently did a short placement at our local hospice, where I worked with the Spiritual Care team. Being around people who are only days or hours away from the end of their life was challenging and difficult to hear about. At times I didn’t want to see the pain, and I’m not sure it’s a ministry I could go into. I loved knowing that the people I’d met who were crying out to their God, whether a christian one or not, had that reassurance and peace that he was with them, amongst the pain and de-humanising aspects of end of life stage care. Sharing any aspect of this with people who didn’t have words for it was also really special. I felt closer to God with people who had no faith at times.
A key phase in my own faith was during a hospital stay, when I met with the spiritual care team and prayed on a Sunday morning in their chapel, when I would have normally been in church. It helped me realise that God is not a fixture only seen in chapels and churches and can be more like a universal, free, superfast Wifi connection, than the old dial-up systems we used to have!
Being in the hospice, did get me thinking though about the after-life, what else is there, and how do we know if we get to heaven, or if there is some kind of divine retribution for really evil people? I guess only God knows the answer to these issues, however I do know that forgiveness is one way to release your own connection with hurt and suffering. Letting go of hurt, and particuarly grief, I think is a sure-fire way to reconnect with God. However, the grief process is not something you can sidle out of. It’s like a tunnel that has to be gone through. If you take a short-cut you will get lost, if you try and avoid it, it just keeps popping up again. Working through the pain, and remaining in the suffering is something we all want to avoid. In the sanctuary at the hospice, they had a basket of pebbles and this signified that grief can sometimes be like a well-worn stone that is still with us, and changes, but doesn’t have to be solved or fixed.
During my time at the hospice, I had to revisit the grief that I personally hold in my heart for my sister who died when she was 3. This time though, I found myself rejecting the years of pain and suffering her death caused, and asking for this to be part of the past not the future. While I did get some closure around this issue, I also learnt that I can hold this grief in my pocket. Like a smooth stone, that I’ve found on the beach. I don’t have to let it go altogether, but can smooth the edges. Maybe it’s because we struggle with grief that God has to help. Revelation 7 v13 tells us of a heaven where there is no more suffering and our God ‘will lead them to springs of living water.’[b] ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’. Living in our incomplete and imperfect world, we can’t maybe expect to live free from tears today.
I think though it’s important to notice the glimpses of heaven on earth that we do encounter, rather than ignoring them in pursuit of some other worldly goal. We can all enjoy a walk on the beach, or listening to birdsong. While it’s difficult to fit these things in, it’s really important to try. Like everyone else, I find that life seems to drown out quiet time, and I sometimes use mindfulness techniques to help me ‘be still’ with God. To notice my breath, that gives me life.
One thing I definitely do too much is finding negative thoughts and emotions, and giving them preference and stronger focus than they need. It’s important to acknowledge them, but perhaps not give lots of oxygen to arguments, gossip or niggly problems, over-analysise things or prevaricate! Especially when I’m trying to pray or read the bible, because for some reason that’s often when these thoughts and feelings often pop up!
So, as I get ready for the big changes happening in the next few weeks, I’m holding pebbles and smoothing them, and occasionally chucking them back in the sea! I’m trying to breathe deeply and stay aware of the colours and the space I’m in. My friends and family are miraculously showing up to encourage me, just when I need them, to keep my focus on God, and not the multitude of pebbles I could be holding.