Back in June, while my husband and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our overdue fourth baby, our elderly neighbor's husband found out he was dying. Within days of finding out he had inoperable cancer, he had gone from walking down the driveway to get the mail to bedridden and on the brink of passing away. It was hard to watch. Just a few days after hearing the news, a hospice vehicle showed up, then family members and relatives seemed to come in a steady stream.
We were sad. You see as far as we know our neighbors are not believers. It's one thing to know people all over the world are dying and facing an eternity without God, it's a whole different ball game when that lost soul is right across the street about to breathe his last and stand before Jesus. His entire eternity just days before his eyes. The burden to reach out with the gospel was overwhelming and heavy. But we didn't know what to do. Walk over into a family gathering and ask if we could tell our dying neighbor about Jesus? Easier said than done.
As much as I'd like to say I handled this all perfectly, I did not. You see, part of me was sad, of course. But another part of me was annoyed. I'm just being honest.
Here I was, thrilled about getting to meet our new baby and the whole mood on our street felt melancholy. I was about to bring forth new life, and here our neighbor was on the brink of death. It was a strange way to await a new baby; life and death colliding. I'm in no way saying it was right, but I felt almost resentful that I had to share my joy with this unexpected sadness.
But if we are all honest, don't we all do that? When our lives are blessed and filled with joy, it is so easy to rejoice, praise God and pretend that everyone else's life is just like ours. None of us want our joy dampened by another person's problems. But as much as that would be a wonderful world, it just isn't how things work this side of heaven. You see, while I ate spaghetti for dinner tonight, a little boy over in Africa died of starvation and diarrhea. When I head out for a nice date with my husband (hopefully sometime soon) there will still be girls all over the world sold for sex and beaten over and over. As I kiss my dear sweet children good night, there are couples whose hearts break over never having children or losing one far before any parent should have to. But we don't like to think about those things. It's sad. It makes life uncomfortable.
But the Bible says to "love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31)" and if I truly believe that, then their sadness is my sadness and their pain is my pain.
Despite my sin of selfishness, God still allowed us to reach out to our dying neighbor. A little false labor that left our kids spending an unexpected overnight with my parents gave us a rare opportunity to go over to our neighbors at 9pm one night without our kids. We walked across the street, nervous and with no idea what to say. But we remembered the verse:
"Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit." - Mark 13:11
We laid our hands on and prayed for our neighbor. God was faithful to his word. He filled my husband with Bible verses that he prayed over him; verses that beautifully shared the Gospel message and the comfort of knowing Jesus, even in death. And our neighbor, though unresponsive all day, started to cry and tried to speak.
He passed away the very next day.
Knowing the truth about Jesus, eternity and the brevity of life, leaves a burden to look beyond our own happiness and be there for the broken and hurting around us. I don't know if our neighbor is in heaven or not. But I do know that we followed Christ's calling by stepping out of our comfort zone that night. The next few days God blessed us with more opportunities to be there for our neighbor's widow and even her teenage grandchildren (who came by for an unexpected game night). Just a few days after all of this, our son was born and we still experienced such joy and happiness.
Our lives here on earth are not meant to be heaven. Oh yes, there will be many, many blessings and God wants us to enjoy them. But the ultimate goal is not a perfect life here. Perfection is in heaven. Jesus is JOY. Jesus is HAPPINESS. Jesus is LIFE. Until then, we have work to do. Uncomfortable work. Challenging work. Work that, at times, may leave us sad and with burdened hearts.
But take heart, dear friends and let the words of Jesus bring you comfort:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:3-10