by Deirdre Byerly
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, for what is seen, is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 2:18
This is the verse that Jesus dropped in my lap nine years ago at Lent. It seemed very mystical to me, after all, how does one see the unseen? I asked a godly friend, Lori, how she thought this could be accomplished and she suggested prayer and meditating on scripture. I thought, yeah, yeah but I’m doing that and I still don’t get it.
The old Bruce Cockburn song came to mind, “looking for eternity, some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.” Well, while I was trying to wrap my brain around eternity, something else had a hold on me and it wasn’t ecstasy. What my eyes were fixed on, what filled my view like a big screen TV, was my dad. He had Alzheimer’s and had been doing a slow disappearing act for six years. Watching him lose his very good mind bit by bit was excruciating. The gently sloping hill Dad had been descending was now transformed into a black diamond run he was careening down out of control. Eating, breathing, walking, sitting were all becoming challenging.
Once or twice a week I’d give my mom a break and have Dad spend the day with me. I’d always assumed I was up to whatever the disease dished out but as Dad’s needs increased I wasn’t so sure. When, during this time, my father-in-law who was also in failing health came to spend a week, my prayer was: are you kidding me? Fortunately, I had friends who were praying for me.
One bleak morning as I sat at my kitchen table praying, hoping for a vision of the eternal, I heard, “It’s the suffering, Stupid.” Okay, I know that when God speaks it’s supposed to be lofty — James Earl Jones speaking King James English. However, on that day it wasn’t Shakespearean or ethereal. Jesus needed to remind me that as long as I was on this planet there’d be suffering. With all the comforts of 21st century American life, in between the heartaches, it was easy to forget. For the early church, it was a given. Follow Jesus – go to jail; follow Jesus – get thrown to the lions; follow Jesus – get crucified.
Towards the end of Lent, Dad had a massive stroke. Sitting at his bedside as he died was painful. Each time I entered the hospital, I thought, I can’t do this. I could muster only the shortest prayer: help. Fortunately, God kept showing up, too. His response to me was what it was to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Sometimes it was in a hymn we’d sing as a family or a passage of scripture or a chapter from my favorite book, “Peace Like a River.” At times the Spirit of God was so thick in the room it was almost visible. There was nearly a hue, a texture to it.
The few times my dad’s eyes would open, he didn’t seem to see us. He’d reach his left hand out as though he was trying to grab onto something above the bed. One of us would take his hand and tell him how much we loved him. It didn’t take long for us to realize he wasn’t reaching for us at all — he was reaching for his savior. His vision was no longer clouded by all the temporary clutter, but fixed on eternity. The ecstasy of eternity had a hold of my dad.
When my dad drew his last breath, shrugged off his useless body and slipped out of this world and into the next, I saw eternity as closely as you can from this side of it.
Funny, I’d begun Lent looking for eternity in a philosophical way. I’d wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings in theory. But God had a better, if harder, plan. My human effort at reaching out to God was small and yet, he mercifully drew me close and allowed me to glimpse eternity.
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Deirdre Byerly attends The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. For Lent, various people from their community are contributing to a daily Lenton e-devotional. On Mondays for the rest of Lent, we’re going to share with you some of their thoughts and insights.