What My Prayer for a Dying Man Taught Me

Have you ever been prompted by God to do something, but ignored it? Recently I almost did.

Cancer struck the father of my small group leader’s wife last year. He had responded well to treatment until a couple months ago when the cancer began to spread. With little hope that more treatment would help, his daughters placed placed him in hospice in a nearby nursing home.

I knew I needed to visit him, but for some reason I delayed until something happened to me early last Wednesday night. I felt God impress this on my heart. “Charles, you have to go see Maynard in the morning.” I don’t particularly enjoy visiting hospitals or nursing homes, but this time I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to visit him.

When I woke up I considered delaying my visit until after my noon swim. Then it would be much more convenient for me, save time, and save gas at the same time… the “killing two birds with one stone” idea. But I decided I would go in the morning anyway.

When I arrived I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced. First, the nursing home didn’t remind me of most I’d seen, musty, smelly, and antique looking. This one exuded cheerfulness with its bright lighting and halls filled with colorful paintings.

But what shocked me most was the stark reminder of my mortality.

I’m 54 and don’t consider myself old (although my kids think I’m a relic). Most of these patients were well over 70. Many sat quietly in their wheelchairs with thin transparent tubing draped around their noses to provide them extra oxygen. Many were parked in front of a TV with a bad signal as afghans clung to their laps. Mostly their heads drooped downward in fitful sleep.

I felt deeply saddened, not so much for their plight, but for the not-so-subtle reminder that one day I, too, will probably lose my ability to function as I once did in my younger years. The aging process has a way of doing that.

As I wandering through the corridors, I came to Maynard’s simple room.

A nurse’s aide was tending to him at the time and slipped out as I steped toward his bed. His breathing was very labored. Since macular degeneration had blinded him, he couldn’t see me, but I knew he could hear me. They say the last thing that goes is our sense of hearing.

Though I’m a pastor, at that moment I felt inadequate about what to pray. Nevertheless, I boldly prayed for him to have a glorious homegoing. In my prayer I also reminded him that he had left a wonderful legacy. As a very strong believer, and a fireman for decades, well into his retirement he had written a regular devotional that he had mailed to several hundred firemen friends.

After my ‘amen,’ and just before I left, I patted him on the shoulder and tearfully said, “Maynard, I’ll see you on the other side.”

Two hours later I received an email that he had passed away.

I came away with two life lessons from that experience.

  1. I must pay closer attention to God’s promptings and heed them when they come. I later spoke to Micki, Maynard’s daughter, and she said that Maynard was hanging on those last few days for something. Was he hanging on for my prayer that God used to usher him into his presence? I don’t know, but when I cross to the other side, I’ll be looking for the fireman whose signature look included a long blond ponytail (his real hair) that he wore before chemo took it away. This time, though, he will not just hear me, but will see me with crystal clarity with his new 20-20 eyes. This is the glorious hope God gives every believer that one day we will have brand new bodies, no longer broken and bruised.
  2. I must live life to the fullest now while I am able. Sometimes I whine too much about what isn’t. But one day, unless I go unexpectedly, I too will get old. I hope my mind stays sharp. I hope my body holds up to the end. But God gives me no guarantees. Right now I don’t see myself in a wheelchair sitting in front of a TV watching re-runs of the Price is Right. But if my body wears out and my mind no longer functions so that all I can do is sit in a wheelchair until God takes me home, I want to arrive there having given my all to Jesus while I could. I don’t want my life to end full of regrets.

It’s been years since I sung the lyrics to this old song, but it’s one that I hope every believer could sing and live with bold assurance.

All to Jesus, I surrender;

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily life.

Refrain: I surrender all, I surrender all,

All the Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

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