Last week I visited a small, but very cosy and homely lodge for older folk where several of our church people now live and it is just along the road from my church. One of the gentlemen I drop in to see is Arthur (not his real name), who has just turned 98 years young! I had known Arthur a bit in years past when he and his wife were busy evangelists and who were active in encouraging church planters and pastors around Melbourne and country Victoria. They travelled around to meet with and encourage pastors and church planting leaders and teams among communities large and not-so-large. Theirs has been a ministry of extraordinary blessing, dedication and devotion to the building up of God’s people wherever they found a need as they offered encouragement in so many places.
In (eventual) retirement, they attended my church for a few years until they were physically no longer able to make the journey, and this course of action had come about before we came to the church. So I never knew they were literally just ‘along the road’ from the church. Sadly, early this year, Arthur’s wife passed away, aged 96. As a couple, they celebrated almost 75 years of marriage. Yes, 75 years of marriage! I think that’s a record among people I have met. And what a wonderful record to hold! A service of celebration for Arthur’s wife was held at my church, and afterwards, Arthur’s daughter asked me to look in on her dad every now and again.
“Sure,” I responded, knowing I already go there so it would not be too hard to add another person to my visiting routine. And so I began to visit Arthur. His daughter asked me to read the Bible to him – and he likes to hear from the Psalms. “Sure,” I nodded again, and did just that. By my third visit, Arthur looked at me a little quizzically, saying, “Why do you always read from the psalms?” I stopped and paused for a moment. “Only because your daughter said you liked to hear them,” I replied a little nervously. “Alright,” he continued, “But let’s go the book of Revelation. Start at Chapter 20,” he instructed.
Which I did for the next few visits. As I read, Arthur’s face would light up as he spoke of the sure and certain hope we have in heaven with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He even began to debate with me some expressions in the Biblical text, including some tenses of Greek verbs in these chapters. His eyes remained bright, lighting up even more as we chatted through those chapters of the Bible. After reading, I pray with him, and gradually he took over this part of my visit – which was perfectly fine with me…
Back to last week. When I asked, from the doorway, if I could enter his room, from his chair, Arthur motioned me in, and I sat down beside him. He looked particularly pale and cold. He sat hunched into his many layers of clothing as he told me he could not get warm. His face took on a far-away look before he spoke. When I asked him how he was feeling today, he looked straight at me before replying with considerable and unexpected strength; “I want die. I just want to be with my wife.” I wanted to cry with him in such sadness. I tried to assure him of my understanding as I told him of our previous Sunday’s reading and sermon text.
“Psalm 42,” I said firmly, “Can I read you Psalm 42?” I waited just a second for the quip about the psalms to come, but it didn’t. So I read slowly and firmly right through that psalm, which speaks of someone desperately seeking God in a time of extreme discouragement. Arthur nodded vigorously as I read, practically saying all of the words with me. As I read and Arthur spoke, I marvelled at God’s timing of having lead me to preach from that psalm on the previous Sunday. For how could I have possibly known that this psalm could bring such comfort to a man, who despite all that he or anyone achieves in life, is left with such loneliness when his wife and life-partner of nearly 75 years goes to Jesus ahead of him? I’d like to think that Arthur sparked up just a little after we read the psalm – and we shared the prayer that followed.
I left Arthur shortly after that to see my other people in that lodge. And as I drove home later, I listened to a couple of ‘end of life’ discussions that came onto the car radio concerning legislation that is being proposed by our state government. Personally, I just can’t imagine where us ‘mere mortals’ (that is, lawyers, legislators and medicos) could begin to make any decision whatsoever about a process of life (or lack thereof) that belongs totally to God who is the author of all life and no other. Hard though it is for Arthur, all we can do at the moment is to trust. We must continue to entrust his life, (as our own) to the God of all life and love, who will reunite Arthur with his beloved wife in His own perfect time.
Glynis Dickins is the Pastoral Care Pastor at Rosanna Baptist Church, in the North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She is passionate for writing about the wonderful people she has connected with throughout many years of ministry. She also writes short stories and published her first novel in 2014 through Ark House, who have just published her next novel.