Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tough Decisions: We Don't Always Have Clear Cut Answers

Often times in our Christian journeys we are faced with decisions for which we long to find some clear cut answer in our understanding of Scripture. Sometimes that clear cut answer is there. Many times, it is not.

A personal example: after my father died, it fell to me to be the full-time caregiver for my mother. At the time she was approaching 80 years of age and suffered from a number of ailments typical of folks that age. After about 7 years, one night she became disoriented, but not in pain, and when she'd speak, it would come out as jibberish. A few days after she'd been admitted to the hospital it seemed she was simply not getting any better (among other things, her kidneys had failed). It was at that point that our doctor, a good friend and man of deep Christian commitments, came to me and presented me with a decision: either we could pursue aggressive medical treatment, which would not cure Mom but simply, and possibly, extend her physical life for a little while, and which would take a significant physical/emotional toll on her, or we could simply make her comfortable as possible and let "nature take its course," as they say.

Making that decision took some time and prayer. My Christian faith told me that human life, being created in the image of God, was of infinite value and worth, that it was sacred. On the other hand, death is a part of life and my Christian faith informed my view of death as well. Should I pray for a miracle? After all, I really didn't want her to die; I wanted her around. Should I pray that God would miraculously heal her, do what medical science could not do? Or should I pray for her to have a good death? Should I pray that God would grant to her a smooth entrance into eternity?

While the core essence of our Christian faith is clear and certain (reflected in those earliest creeds and confessions of the Church), much of our journey is not so clear and certain. We need the gift of discernment. We need the leading, the guiding of the Holy Spirit as we genuinely wrestle with those difficult decisions, such as the one I faced with my mom, such as the ones which face many of us eventually. We need prayer.

In the case of my mother, my prayer initially was for wisdom, for guidance. Eventually, after a lot of prayer and thinking and talking with others, my prayer became that God would grant to her comfort in her last hours and grant her a smooth entrance into eternity.

Point is, in a lot of situations there are no rules to follow, no clear cut guidelines telling us what is "the" Christian thing to do. We allow our understanding of God, our understanding of Scripture to inform our decision making and we pray for wisdom and guidance, for the leading of the Holy Spirit.

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