His name was Drew, a fifteen-year-old kid whose mom was dying with cancer. If my memory serves me right it was cancer diagnosis number three for her and it wasn’t looking good. I went up to the hospital and found him sitting in the hall on the floor right outside of his mom’s room exhausted and crying. I quietly sat down next to him and said nothing. Honestly nothing needed to be said. I already knew the situation, already knew what seemed to be the inevitable outcome, and already knew how he felt. I just didn’t want him to be alone. It’s amazing how all those psychology and grief counseling classes at the university can still leave you with very little to say. So we sat. After awhile he spoke up through a veil of tears and asked the question I have since heard many times over, “Why?”
Honestly that’s a great question! Why? Why pain, why loss, why sickness, and why death? Why? The Bible even says: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Co 15:26) Death is real and every one of us will face it. Much literature has been written to help people cope with this inescapable reality. Billions of dollars are spent on medical procedures to ward it off for just a few more years, but we haven’t figured out how to turn death off. Even though the Bible offers the path through this dark corridor by following Jesus, we aren’t taken off the road that leads to death. John Calvin even says, “The substance of death in us will one day be drained off, but it has not been so as yet.” Some deal with this by ignoring it, others by mocking it, some pretend it is all an illusion, and some try to prepare for it, but you can’t ultimately refuse it.
So there I sat with Drew. Honestly he was a solid kid. His parents were faithful followers of Christ and had hope in heaven, but death still stings. Especially when it’s someone you deeply love. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our fellow brothers isn’t to ignore their suffering, but pragmatically engage with them. In 1 John 3:17-18 the Bible says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” John Wesley restated this verse in 1818 by saying this, “Not in word—Only, but in deed—In action: not in tongue—By empty professions, but in truth.” I made a decision that day to do more than drop academic answers and walk off. I wanted to actually walk with people like him and teach others to do so too. Drew and I have had many conversations over the last decade. I am fully convinced it wasn’t only my education that helped; it was my decision to be a committed friend. I believe when people walk into the doors of a church they should find this type of heart, a heart like Christ intended his followers to have.
Here are a few tactical things to do when you find someone staring in the face of death.
1) Prepare yourself. Facing someone’s death can be tough. Pray up and face your fears!
2) Be a friend more than a guru. People don’t need someone to rationalize their pain away. They need a friend.
3) Say less. Yep, that’s right. Just being with them can be a blessing.
4) Let them vent. It’s alright to decompress and acknowledge their pain.
5) When you do speak offer hope! The promise of Christ changes everything.
6) Love on the people that they love! Engage their family and friends and be there for them too.