I know a number of people who work as advisers in a range of charities in Northern Ireland and beyond.
Some claim to be Christians and some do not, but whatever their religious affiliation, or none, their work is life-changing for those whom they serve.
I happened to be in the office of one such adviser recently when a gentleman in his early sixties was there looking for help with the completion of an application for welfare benefits. He was a big man, a strong man, a builder in his day, but he had succumbed to COPD, a condition that causes breathlessness, chronic coughing and extreme fatigue, so for perhaps the first time in his life he was unable to work and he was forced to carry a small tank of oxygen to enable him to breathe. As a result he also began to experience intense depression, and his right hand had begun to develop a tremble, or what he described as a ‘trimmel’.
It was profoundly sad to see one who had been so able reduced to a place where he was totally dependent on others. At one point the adviser passed the completed form over to him for him to sign, and the man was ashamed that he had to steady his right hand with his left so that he could sign the paper. Another signature wasrequired, and having only signed half his name his big head dropped, his shoulders began to shake and he began to cry. ‘I never thought it would end like this,’ he sobbed.
Later the same day, a French lady, again in her sixties, came for help and advice regarding her pension. She had come here to live 30 years ago to make a new life for herself when her marriage had failed. She never married again, worked as a social worker, and now she lived alone in a one-bedroom pensioner’s cottage, and she too, for a variety of reasons was unable to function without support and reassurance from others. Although she did not use the words I heard earlier that day, she was saying the same thing; ‘I never thought it would end like this.’
Lives that began with energy and drive, with passion and high expectation now dashed to pieces. So dreadfully sad because perhaps things could have been very different, but to say that begs the question: what could have been done to assure them of a different outcome? My mind travels back to my friend the minister who preached a series of sermons, each only 10-15 minutes’ long (about as long as anyone can hold my attention).
He was making the point that if we look to our status, or our wealth, our good looks or our physique for our identity, then who are we when the inevitability of change strikes, or don’t turn out as we expected? And if we live our lives as if we plan to live forever, then old age will break our hearts.
There is no easy answer, but maybe there’s a clue in something Paul said: ‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’. The beginning and the end. Could it be that Paul was saying that we can rely on the author and finisher, our Alpha and the Omega, to be with us from our beginning until our end, through thick and thin, good days and bad days?
I can certainly testify, that has been my experience.