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A Lesson on Suffering from a Hospice Chaplain

The thing about being a hospice chaplain is that you deal with people who are at the end of their lives. There are no future dreams and hopes left in this life, but only a lot of reflection on the past. There is one case that changed me forever.

“There is one case that changed me forever.”

I was called out to a nursing home to visit a patient, named Grace whose family thought she was near the end. Walking into the room, I expected the family to be there but Grace was alone, except for her roommate in the next bed. Grace was unable to speak so I sat and read to her for a while.

Her roommate began to tell me about how Grace was 60 years old and had suffered from this disease for the last 42 years—completely debilitated and dependent on others for everything. She went on to tell me about how Grace was a dancer when she was young and loved children, planning to go to college to be a teacher. She loved Jesus and wanted to show His love to her students. All of that disappeared when Grace was diagnosed with an illness at the age of 18.

Grace quickly declined and was unable to do any of the things she did before, having to be carried to the bathroom on her mother’s back, unable to care for herself. I sat there silently and became hot with anger. I thought to myself, this is the good plan for her life? Her life was terrible, unfair, and completely wrong. All her dreams were shattered with no happy ending. It ended here in a nursing home, with the sounds of wheelchairs, moaning patients, and medical equipment.

My thoughts were interrupted by the hand of Grace’s nephew on my shoulder. He walked past me, kissed her on the forehead and sat down. He told me the reason he knew Jesus was because of his aunt Grace, in fact, everyone in the family knew Jesus because of her. With tears in his eyes, he told me how she suffered for over 40 years but nobody can remember a complaint ever coming from her mouth. The one thing they did remember was how she told everyone she encountered about the greatness of Jesus.

Piercing my heart, he said,“we all thought her life was unfair. but she never saw it that way—she trusted what God was doing.” One by one her family members filed in and told their own stories about how Grace’s joy in Jesus drew them to Christ.

Driving home with tears in my eyes, the Lord gently reminded me “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

Grace’s life didn’t make sense to me until I looked at it through the right lens. Like the man born blind in John chapter 9, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” God used her life of suffering to display His glory. Her life was a story that taught us all that Jesus is enough. She entered the glory of her maker with a heart full of joy, leaving behind the sweet fragrance of the supremacy and all satisfying glory of Jesus.

The Apostle Peter’s words remind us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)

God’s use of suffering to fashion His saints into His image is not an unusual means, but a frequent tool in the hand of the Maker. Tim Keller says, “You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.” Things that strip away the blinders of the comforts of this life and bare our truest need are compassionate graces. When suffering comes our way, which it will, finding our joy in Jesus will put God’s glory on display and lead us to “love God more ardently for Himself alone and so discover the ultimate peace and freedom.”

Things that strip away the blinders of the comforts of this life and bare our truest need are compassionate graces.

Suffering is meant to transform us into the image of Jesus, cause us to see that Jesus is all we truly need and put the glory of Jesus on display for the world to see. If we truly believe that our purpose is to glorify God, Grace’s life of suffering was purposeful, well lived, well spent, and full of beauty—a pleasing aroma to the Author of Life. May it be so of our own gifts of suffering.

Article submitted by Patrick O’Rourke.

Patrick O’Rourke is a Christian, husband, father, and Hospice Chaplain. He loves the church, the outdoors, acoustic music, and has a passion for helping people find joy in Jesus.

Do you have a story about suffering to share? Do you have a prayer request? Please let us know in the comments below.

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