(Once again going through writing files. Finding this the day after the tragic helicopter crash that killed nine people in California, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter, just seemed serendipitous. That and realizing how sick my mom was last week, well, I just want to encourage us to say those things that need to be said to find healing, comfort, and closure.)
My dad died in August 1989. He had cancer of the bladder that metastasized to his lungs, kidneys, and finally the brain. In July, he had a seizure, and while his body kept functioning, my dad was gone. I came home while he was still in the hospital. I was sitting with Dad, giving Mom a break, when the fog in his brain lifted. He began speaking clearly and using familiar hand gestures and expressions. It was so good to see him. He started to make me a diagram on the tablet I was writing on. About thirty seconds into what he was explaining his writing and his speech began to slur, and he was back in the fog.
A few weeks later, we received a call from Mom. The hospice nurse had told her to gather the family. They didn’t know if he would even make it through the day. It was the quickest trip from Kansas City to Columbus we ever made. That was Friday. Dad lingered until Wednesday. Each of us had our time by his bedside. We all said lots of things, but I don’t know what he heard. More than anything I said, what I wanted was to hear him say he loved me…one more time.
Last words. They hold such power and weight. Jesus knew that. As he came to the end of his time, he gathered the disciples close, and gave them his undivided attention and teaching. As I think through those lessons I’m thankful Jesus’ last words to Peter weren’t about his betrayal, but were an instruction to feed Jesus’ sheep.
Last words. Here’s the problem with them. Jesus knew when he was going to die. He had the opportunity to plan out those final meetings with the people who mattered the most to him—an advantage not many of us have. We rarely have a clue what could happen in a day. This was driven home to me when the husband of a friend had a colonoscopy done, and two weeks later he was gone. Or when my fifteen year old nephew fell off a cliff at church camp and died. Or when one month after becoming friends with a precious, encouraging woman, she was killed in a head on automobile accident.
So here’s what I think the challenge for us is. We have to learn to somehow live as if all our words were our last words. As if all our lessons to our children were the last lessons we were going to give. Would it make a difference? Hopefully, there would be more love and grace. When asked if he knew he only had a short time to live if he would change anything, John Wesley replied he would not, implying he was already living with a sense of the importance of each moment. Are we there yet? I know I’ve got room for improvement.
In Ken Gire’s book, Reflective Living, he discusses the Shema. He describes how important this was to the Jewish believer. It would be the first thing they said every morning and the last thing said every night. Their last words before they died would be the Shema: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5, NIV).”
If we were living this kind of ALL consuming love, perhaps we would come to say all the things we need to say while we’re alive. I believe living all out this way will make Jesus’ last words more real to us, and help our words, first and last, count more now…
…and in the end.