Recently, Marjorie Nighbert, a nursing home patient, asked "for a little something to eat" and also a drink of water. A Florida judge ruled that she was not "competent" to make such request for food. As a result, this precious 83 year-old woman who bore the image of God was starved and dehydrated to death with the full agreement of her family. Indeed the culture of death is marching forward when persons who request food and water can be judged incompetent to make such a request. Where does it stop?
Of course, these types of tragedies happen every day across the country while most remain ignorant to the practice, the ethical issues involved, and the danger of their own future. In hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices across the country, many are moved toward death before their time through starvation and dehydration. This dynamic is caused by the removal of or the refusal to insert a feeding tube. Others, especially cancer patients, are given overly high doses of morphine to speed the process of death. Well I remember the day they put my own father on morphine. His mind went and he commenced a rapid down hill physical slide and was dead within two weeks. We did not know then what we know now.
Economic considerations are weighed behind closed doors while trusting families remain in the dark. Quality of life arguments are presented to those watching their loved ones suffer and the sanctity of human life goes out the window. Without the mooring of God’s truth, persons are pressured into decisions that dishonor Him. Of course, Christians should know better, but, they remain as ignorant as the rest of the world.
In light of prevailing trends in this culture of death, Christians should be prepared for death. They may face such sooner than they would like. Ultimately, only those who know Christ are prepared for such. But the issue before us is being prepared for death in a practical sense. In an article last week, the point was made that we can be prepared for death if we admit our frailty to ourselves. The focus was on the fact that we all are dying and suffering decay as a result of the curse (Romans 8). We will lose our health and our earthly dignity (though not our essential dignity). If we admit such, we can face death with the strength of grace and the grace of strength. In this article, we offer another thought in this subject.
Second, we can be prepared for death if we access a loyalty from men. Our thoughts are grounded in 1 Ki. 1:1-4: "Now King David was old, advanced in years; and they put covers on him, but he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, "Let a young woman, a virgin, be sought for our lord the king, and let her stand before the king, and let her care for him; and let her lie in your bosom, that our lord the king may be warm." So they sought for a lovely young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very lovely; and she cared for the king, and served him; but the king did not know her." It is interesting to note that David had loyal servants who were concerned for him. They knew David could not keep warm. They could have resigned themselves to that fact, but, they sought to figure out how they could help him. The demonstrated a loyalty to him in his dying days.
We all need friends. How we need friends especially in the midst of trials and difficulties. In thinking about our future, we will have friends by our side in our dying days, or will we be left alone? If we are to have friends in that hour, we must make friends now. Chuck Swindol relates an apt account. "During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour. The swollen river had washed the bridge away. Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents. The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river. The president agreed without hesitation. The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side. As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?" The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him. "All I know," he said, "Is that on some of your faces was written the answer 'No,' and on some of them was the answer 'yes.' His was a 'Yes' face." Do you have a "yes face?" More importantly, do you have a "yes life?" It was Christ who demonstrated a "yes life" before us. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13)." We will gain friends if we are willing to lay our lives down daily for others.
We need loyal friends who will demonstrate compassion in our infirmities. King David's friends did just that as they sought for a way to help him in his hour of need. How many times have we heard a loved one say, "I don't want to be a burden." Christian counselor June Hunt heard these words from her mother. She responded by saying, "Mom, you could never be a burden, but you are a blessing." How true it is when we love someone. I would have gladly spent the last six years caring for my Dad if he could still be here. It would not be a burden, but a blessing, because I love him. Was Terri Schiavo a burden to her parents? Some may consider us a burden. That's why, practically speaking, we need friends.
We need loyal friends who will provide help in our infirmities. David's particular age and infirmity required heat. His friends cared for him and sought out a young woman to keep him warm. Of course, we have other ways to accomplish that dynamic today. The point is that his friends cared about him.
Let us answer some questions concerning the procurement of Abishag to keep David warm. First, her procurement was medical. She was young and healthy. She could give David a body heat that he could not maintain on his own. Even under blankets his frail body did not generate enough heat to maintain warmth. Second, her intentions were pure. She was a virgin and not looking to be dishonored or to be dishonorable. Third, her actions were caring. She stood before the king. In other words, she ministered to him as a servant. Further, she cared for the king. That is, she ministered to him as a nurse. Finally, she laid beside the king. In this way she ministered to him as a medicine.
How sad it would be to die in the throes of loneliness because you had no friends. In the early years of my ministry, I remember ministering to a dying man. He had no friends. He did have a wife, but, other than her, he was alone in the world. No one visited him and apparently no one cared. When he died, his body was simply taken to the basement of the hospital and disposed of in some way. We did have a small memorial service for him. It was attended by his wife, myself, and a few folk from church who were compassionately respectful in a difficult situation. In one sense, he really did die alone.
Yet, how comforting it would be to die in the midst of love because you were a friend. Do you want friends to come see you? Do you want loved ones to care for you? Do you want loyal friends to be at your bedside when it’s time to die? Do you want many at your funeral? If you want friends, then you must be a friend. Take the initiative and befriend others.
In his book Written in Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The boy had recovered from the same disease a couple of years earlier. His sister's only chance for survival was a blood transfusion from someone who had recovered from the disease. The doctor asked the boy, "Would you give your blood to Mary?" Johnny hesitated for a moment and his lip began to quiver. He then smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister." As the procedure commenced, Johnny grinned at his sister, but his grin left his face when the needle was inserted into his arm. He watched the blood flow from his arm for some time. When the procedure was almost finished, he finally asked, "Doctor, when do I die?" It was then that the doctor knew why the boy had hesitated when he agreed to give his blood for his sister; he thought it meant giving his life. Obviously, he did not have to die, but in that brief moment, he was ready to do so. What compassion; what a friend.
Do you have friends like that? With individuals on the bench like the Florida judge who ruled against Marjorie Nighbert, we need friends. When someone who asks for something to eat and drink is then subsequently ruled incompetent to make such a request by a judge, we desperately need friends. We need friends to fight for us that we might live, and, we need friends to love us when we die. We may die by court order. It is then that we will need the comfort of a friend as we prepare to enter into the joy of our Lord, the one who is pleased to call us "friend."