‘Why Wait?’ – A Look at Closure Before Death
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
A speaker at our first medical ethics conference indicated that he hoped for a lingering death. He knew people most often want to die suddenly and unexpectedly in their sleep — he didn’t. He wanted time. He wanted to use his remaining moments to do things and especially to say things that he otherwise felt unable or uncomfortable doing.
Admittedly the dying often use a level of candor and boldness once they are given a few months to live. They use the time to mend fences, bury hatchets, heal family wounds, and bring closure to their brief time remaining on earth. Most speak with wonderful frankness about spiritual matters. Even the most silent of believers become bold and courageous in their witness for God and the confidence found in the merits of Christ.
I Would Ask: Why Wait?
Why wait until an impending death notice comes your way before saying and doing those things that should be said and done? How many of us sinfully allow the sun to set on our anger (Matthew 5:23-24)? How many of us see the sins of friends and family yet keep silent, worrying more about giving offense rather than their souls (Ezekiel 3:18ff)? How often are we bashful in our Christian witness (Matthew 5:14-16)? What of those times when our voice needs to be heard (Proverbs 31:8-9), our selfishness needs to disappear (Luke 6:29-31), and our love needs to abound (Philippians 1:9)? How often dont we walk to the other side rather than help those in need (Luke 10:30ff), gossip instead of defend (Colossians 3:8-14), or neglect instead of proclaiming the gospel message of sin and salvation in Christ (Acts 4:20)?
All of these matters are to be part of a lifestyle that starts the moment faith begins until our dying breath – not just after confirmation, at the start of marriage, or at the birth of a child. This lifestyle doesnt start when we are elected to the Church Council or another leadership role in the church. And it doesnt start when a terminal diagnosis is given.
The reality is that from the beginning of our life we begin the process of dying. Our days are numbered (Psalm 49:10; 1 Corinthians 15:22), and death will come. It is the Divine Physician who gave us the diagnosis that because of sin death comes to all of us (Romans 5:12). Oh yes, todays medicine may help you live longer than your ancestors. That life-saving operation may forestall death. But in the end, our lives end!
In a world of incredible diversity death is one of those rare common denominators. Yet, considering its commonness, it is a terribly neglected topic. Occasionally, however, something happens that brings death to the forefront. The 9/11 terrorist attack caused us to consider the fragile nature of our lives. Most recently, we were the uninvited bystanders in the death of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding was withdrawn in order to bring her life to an end. As if her death by starvation was not tragic enough, we witnessed a fractured family forced to wrestle with emotions, disability, anger, disappointment, and death.
The news media, which is so often a mile wide in covering the facets of a story but an inch deep in extracting any meaning from it, warned the world to state their medical wishes in a legal document. Get a living will was heard over and over again. You want to protect yourself from either a self-serving family member or those who just cant let go.
The national office of Christian Life Resources felt the increased interest. Hits on our website increased nearly tenfold. Requests for our Christian medical directive statement increased nearly eightfold. I am concerned that much of this interest was motivated out of fear and not out of opportunity. I want to point out the opportunity.
Years ago, when the Society for the Right to Die promoted its death-biased living will to state legislators, Christian Life Resources developed an alternative document called My Christian Declaration on Life. While many were looking for expedient ways to die, our office distributed hundreds of these documents to help people witness to the truth of life in Christ.
It didnt take long before society recognized that despite its resurgent term, living wills were not the way to go. They are often vague documents asking people to state generalized wishes for a critical time in life when specifics are needed. For that reason state legislatures developed statutes to govern creation of medical directive statements that designate a health care agent or surrogate to make decisions for you when you cannot. In these documents you can still state generalized wishes, but a trusted family member or friend is appointed to apply those wishes to the medical issues at hand when you cannot provide further direction.
Again, at Christian Life Resources we saw the need to point to the Author of Life and Death. Working with legal counsel, we developed a Christian medical directive statement for all fifty states. It is 100 percent valid and more! It uses the opportunity of facing death to talk about the life we have in Christ.
Yes, a lingering death gives us the chance to state our wishes, mend our fences, and settle our unfinished business. But why wait? Isnt it what we should be doing throughout our lives?
So now your family wants you to state your medical wishes legally in a document. Your lawyer agrees it is a good idea. In addition, hospitals now ask you about your medical directive statement or living will when you are admitted. They will indicate that you have the legal right to have such a document (and offer their own generic document if you dont already have one). Let your voice be heard, and let it speak the things of God.
While we have expended thousands of dollars in the development and annual update of this document, we continue to offer it at no cost through our website; each states document can be downloaded by going to: www.ChristianLifeResources.com. In addition, a more complete packet can be purchased (consult our store for the current price options). Order it from the national office by phoning 1-800-729-9535; or go to our online store here.
Don’t wait for a lingering death. Use every circumstance in your life as an opportunity to speak the truth loudly, clearly, lovingly, and with confidence. Even in death you have life! Don’t wait to get the word out.