“Look at me. Look at my life. It’s been a train wreck.”
I am a social worker and, sometimes, that’s what I hear from people nearing death. It’s what a ninety-year-old, terminally ill patient with heart disease said to me when I first started in the field of hospice care a couple of years ago. We were engaged in a life review discussion in which patients reflect upon the highs and lows of their lives. He brought up the subject of God and how, as a teen, he was a strong believer.
“Lot of good it did me, though,” he said.
“What happened to your faith?” I asked.
“What do you think?” he quickly shot back, his stare, piercing. “You’re an adult. It just stopped working. The older you get, the less sense it makes.”
The sharpness in his tone told me to cut short the questions but I had one more. “Why do you think you had such a strong faith when you were young?”
“Because I didn’t know any better. It was make-believe, like the tooth fairy. At least, I used to get a few quarters out of that deal.”
I walk away from every life review discussion with new thoughts to ponder. Some confirm my own beliefs while others challenge them.
Many are inspiring, especially the people who have made God and faith the centerpieces of their lives. There was the gospel singer with throat cancer who told me she had never missed a single worship service until she became ill. To the day she died, she made it a point each Sunday to whisper the hymns from her bed.
Some are disturbing. A man who would later die of cirrhosis of the liver once confessed to me that he had been a burglar for two years as a young man. “Best days of my life,” he boasted. “Lucky was I to find the Lord later. But I’ll probably pay for those days – and soon.”
I keep drifting back, though, to the conversation with the patient who dubbed his life a train wreck. I think about his take on faith, about it making less sense the older he got.
Every so often, I’ve felt that way, too. I’ve been in the train wrecks; I’ve wondered about the logic of faith. But make-believe? God – a tooth fairy?
To believe in God is to collect the evidence. For me it’s the way the sunrise makes itself known like an urgent bulletin and how a child’s smile does the same thing. It’s the nurse with the reassuring touch gently holding a patient’s hand or the teacher’s aide with the white cane teaching kids Braille. It’s a concert hall of strings and reeds or a willow tree’s family of lady bugs.
What evidence have you found?