Chapter 4: Hope and thanksgiving
A nurse spoke to a chaplain quietly in the hospital hallway. “Chaplain, I want you to see Mr. O’Brien in bed 6. His mood is not consistent with what he is dealing with. I think he may be in major denial. Would you see him and give me your impression?”
As the chaplain entered Mr. O’Brien’s room, he saw a pleasant-looking man in his 70’s reading a Bible. The stump of his amputated leg stuck out from under the sheets. A picture of a young man in military uniform was sitting on the bedside table. Next to that was a picture of an older, attractive woman. Next to that picture was a single cut flower in a transparent vase. There was the distinct but faint scent of aftershave lotion in the air.
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“Hello, I am Chaplain Hortez, and I came by to introduce myself and get acquainted, if you have a few moments.”
“Well, I can always make time for a chaplain. I was just reading my daily devotions.” As the patient laid down his Bible, the chaplain noticed the patient’s left hand was missing several fingers and his left arm appeared to have scarring from a severe burn.
“Thank you. I appreciate your courtesy. Actually, I am coming by because your nurse asked me to see you. What brings you here to the hospital?”
“Well, I like my nurse, though to tell you the truth, she seems a little stern, but nevertheless well intended. I have cancer. They say they can’t operate. The cancer is too advanced and my heart wouldn’t take the surgery anyway.”
“Goodness, it sounds like you have been dealing with a lot.”
“Yes, I have, ever since my lovely wife died,” the patient pointed toward the picture on the bedside table, “five years ago. She was the best wife anyone could have, a jewel, a woman of faith and a faithful woman. I still miss her, but I am grateful that she is now with God and I hope to see her again someday. Not that I am in any hurry, mind you, I’ve got three adult children and five grandchildren that I want to see grow up.”
“And what are the prospects for that?”
“Not good, according to the doctor. They say I have less than four months to live. I’ve signed my advance directive, I have my will in order, and I’ve told my children that I want to be cremated and buried next to my wife. Reverend Lunden will do the service. Do you know her?”
“No, I don’t believe I do.”
“Well, she is a fine pastor. I’ve learned a lot from her. That’s why I can say I am one of the most blessed people alive. I was able to serve my country in the military. As you can see,” pointing to his leg and then lifting his left hand, “I came out of that with a few scratches. They thought I was going to die, I lost so much blood, but God has always been good to me. He brought me through. My girlfriend left me when she saw what shape I was in, but that was fortunate too, because then I met the love of my life. We had four children.”
“Wait a minute, I thought you said you had three children.”
“We do, now. One child was killed in a car accident as a teenager. That was a horrible day.” There was a pause and Mr. O’Brien’s eyes filled. “That was a horrible day,” he repeated. “I will never forget it. You never expect to lose a child. I remember saying to God how unfair that was. He was hit by a drunk driver. I was angry with God and the world. I was bitter. I retreated into my own world. That was when my wife asked Pastor Lunden to come see me. When she came, I refused to see her. She said that was O.K., that she understood I was in a ‘dark time’ and that she would be back. I really didn’t think she would come back, but she did. It took three times before I said I would talk with her. Once I started talking, all the anger and bitterness flooded out of me. She came back many times, over months. She said very little for the first three months. I said a lot. I talked about how much I missed my son, how guilty I felt for letting him drive, and then I was surprised because I started talking about how much I resented losing my leg and fingers during the war. I said over and over again how unfair life had been to me.”
“It’s hard to imagine what you were going through.”
“I had given up. I had lost any sense of hope for the future. I felt I was the victim of other people’s deliberate and irresponsible behaviors. Inside I was seething with anger and resentment.”
“There is something I don’t understand, Mr. O’Brien.”
“Today, you don’t seem to be that angry, bitter person. What happened?”
“Pastor Lunden happened. She listened for the longest time and after she listened, she would always ask if she could pray with me. At first I refused. I was too angry with God to want to pray. But one day I said O.K. and to my surprise, she said a prayer that went something like this:
Your son, Jack, is very angry with you. He resents your not protecting his son. He is angry because you did not step in to rescue his son from a drunk driver. He is angry because he offered to serve his country and came back home missing a leg and some fingers. Dear God, would you please listen to how angry Jack is and help him begin to hope again, so that he can come to feel better sometime soon. Amen.’ ”
“Wow, that was a very honest prayer.”
“That’s why I remember it, Chaplain. She prayed exactly what I was feeling. I didn’t realize it until she prayed it. But I had given up all hope that I could ever enjoy life again, that I could ever laugh without feeling like I was betraying my son, that I could ever find meaning in my life again. But that prayer started me thinking about letting myself hope again.
“Later, the pastor gave me some Scriptures to read that helped me see that other people have suffered too; they have struggled to ask God for the courage to reestablish their hope.”
“Well, Mr. O’Brien, I see you now not only as hopeful, even in the midst of your cancer diagnosis, but also as grateful.”
“You are very perceptive. The thankfulness came later. I am not quite sure how it happened. I do remember being so focused on how unfair life had been to me. Then I was reading an assignment from Pastor Lunden, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Isaiah. That changed my life.”
“Do you remember what it was that spoke to you?”
“Of course, it was Isaiah 44.24. Here, I will read it to you,” said Mr. O’Brien, picking up his Bible. The chaplain noticed that there was a marker in the Bible that let the patient turn directly to the passage that he was about to read.
Looking the chaplain in the eye, and only occasionally looking at his Bible, as if he had nearly memorized the Scripture, Mr. O’Brien said:
“I am the LORD, your savior;
I am the one who created you.
I am the LORD, the Creator of all things.
I alone stretched out the heavens;
when I made the earth,
no one helped me.”
“That is a beautiful passage. Tell me how it helped you open yourself to an attitude of thanksgiving.”
“Don’t you see, Chaplain; I had been so self-absorbed, so pre-occupied with how unfair life had been to me that I didn’t see how gracious God is to me. Just think of it, before I was born, God was caring for me, he formed me in my mother’s womb… even before I knew what was happening. Isn’t that miraculous? He made all things, the stars, the sky, the air I breathe, the doctors and nurses who help me, my wonderful wife of 50 plus years, my children and grandchildren, my body capable of healing from a lost leg and fingers. I never saw it. God’s grace is everywhere and I was blinded by my sense of injustice. Well, God has been more than just to me. He has poured out goodness upon goodness on me. Does that mean that there are times that I have to let go of feeling that life is unfair? Of course. Sometimes I still get caught in how unfair life seems, like being told I am going to die in four months. Then I take some time to feel sad, sometimes daily, but then I remind myself of how God is so gracious, and of how much goodness surrounds me if I just let myself see it.
“Sometimes I take a few moments to see how many things I can feel thankful for, I even write them down. And you know what happens when I do that?”
“Please tell me.”
“It’s like a window opening. When I start creating a list of what I can be thankful for, it’s like pulling open the shades to let the light in. I keep thinking of more and more ways I am blessed. My sense of resentment grows less and less. I feel like I am the luckiest, or I should say the most blessed man on earth. And my sense of hope comes flooding back into my life. I can feel the presence of God again and I feel safe even in the midst of life’s unfairness.”
“All I can say, Mr. O’Brien, is that you have blessed me today. Thank you so much for this time together.”
“Aren’t you going to say a prayer?”
“I would be honored to.
I thank you for Mr. O’Brien and his discovery of the power of hope and thanksgiving in the midst of the many losses he has had. We celebrate his love for his wife and all four children and five grandchildren. Thank you for reaching out to him through his pastor, through prayer, and through Scripture. Now, as he is dealing with cancer, guide his physicians, nurses and this chaplain to know how to be most helpful to him. Lighten each day by your gracious presence and through the window of thanksgiving. Amen.”
“Thank you Chaplain, that was just right.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. O’Brien. Thank you for blessing my day. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” said Mr. O’Brien as he waved with his left hand.
Consider the following Scripture passages and ask yourself if you are able to allow hope and thanksgiving to be two resources you can use to deal with times when life has been unfair to you.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
Many of the psalms reflect the joy and peace that comes from belief that the LORD will take care of us..
Be strong, be courageous, all you that hope in the LORD.
We put our hope in the LORD; he is our protector and our help.
We are glad because of him; we trust in his holy name.
May your constant love be with us, LORD, as we put our hope in you.
Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled?
I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him,
my savior and my God.
I am like an olive tree growing in the house of God;
I trust in his constant love forever and ever.
I will always thank you, God, for what you have done;
in the presence of your people I will proclaim that you are good.
I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him.
He alone protects and saves me;
he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated.
My salvation and honor depend on God;
he is my strong protector; he is my shelter.
Trust in God at all times, my people.
Tell him all your troubles, for he is our refuge.
I will always put my hope in you; I will praise you more and more.
I will tell of your goodness; all day long I will speak of your
salvation, though it is more than I can understand.
I will go in the strength of the LORD God;
I will proclaim your goodness, yours alone.
Remember your promise to me, your servant;
it has given me hope.
Even in my suffering I was comforted
because your promise gave me life.
You are my defender and protector;
I put my hope in your promise.
Happy are those who have the God of Jacob to help them
and who depend on the LORD their God,
the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea,
and all that is in them. He always keeps his promises.
The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah speak of renewed strength and new life that comes from hope in the Lord God.
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God;
he created all the world.
He never grows tired or weary.
No one understands his thoughts.
He strengthens those who are weak and tired.
Even those who are young grow weak;
young people can fall exhausted.
But those who trust in the LORD for help
will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.
“The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
‘I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to
bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to
bring about the future you hope for.’ ”
The LORD your God is with you; his power gives you victory.
The LORD will take delight in you, and in his love he will give
you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you.
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus assures us that we are valued by God our Father.
For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!
The apostle Paul reminds us of our hope in the Lord.
We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.
Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.
May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul urges us to pray with a thankful heart.
Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.
Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.
Be persistent in prayer, and keep alert as you pray, giving thanks to God.
Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5.16-18
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and in his grace gave us unfailing courage and a firm hope, encourage you and strengthen you to always do and say what is good.
2 Thessalonians 2.16,17
The writer of 1 Peter reminds us of the living hope we have in our Lord Jesus.
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away.
1 Peter 1.3,4
Our faith is grounded in sure hope.
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. It was by their faith that people of ancient times won God’s approval. It is by faith that we understand that the universe was created by God’s word, so that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.
We have this hope as an anchor for our lives. It is safe and sure.
Thoughts for Reflection
- In what and in whom do you place your hope?
- If you are willing, make a list of what you are thankful for today.
- How has God been gracious to you?
- What blessings do you have that you did not earn or that you don’t deserve?
- Identify one way life has been unfair to you, and apply the pointer below to address that concern.
- Take time to feel the sadness and grief of the loss that has come to you.
- Take time to ask God or someone else to help you deal with what has been unfair.
- Take time to ask yourself if you are willing to accept the help that is available to you to deal with times when life has been unfair. If you are willing, name a specific way in which you will accept that help.
- Take time to determine how you are willing to let yourself hope again in spite of the hurt you have suffered. Consider whether your hope is for something that will be of help to you.
- Take time to find as many things as possible to be grateful for, to give thanks for, in this unfairness that has come to you, being clear not to dismiss the pain that this has caused in your life. What do you discover as you look for opportunities to be grateful.
Dear God, in my life’s journey there is much I do not understand, much that remains a mystery to me. But of this I am sure: you love me; your promise is to always be present with me. In every aspect of my life, I ask to feel your presence, strong, guiding and reassuring.
When life seems unfair, help me hold fast to you. When I am angry, or tempted to become cynical or bitter, hear my cry. Then gently lead me to your waiting presence, that even in the midst of my pain, I may know the deeper peace that passes understanding. Thank you for the promise of your presence. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.