Best of Daily Reflections: The Unseen Finish Line
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Holy God, holy and mighty, holy Immortal One, have mercy. I sat at my aunt’s bedside, whisper-singing the "Trisagion" as I waited for ten minutes to pass so I could push a button on the pain pump, sending a boost of Dilaudid into her failing body. Twenty months earlier she had been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer; eight days earlier she had stopped eating and drinking. She groaned softly. Sometimes she slept.
But when she was awake, her button-brown eyes rested on my face. No longer in command of her speech, her eyes did the talking. They said, I am calm. I am grateful. When I sang, her lips moved.
At three the following morning, July 4, she suffered a seizure. At four she had another seizure. They continued through the day, the intervals shrinking to twenty minutes or so. She groaned constantly, except during the seizures. Hospice nurses came and adjusted medications. Her son and two granddaughters visited. When it was my shift at the pain pump, I sang over and over: Have mercy. Have mercy.
Auntie no longer made eye contact with any of us. But she was looking. Her eyes scanned the room as if she was trying to absorb a compelling scene. Wonderstruck, Uncle said. She is looking in wonder at something.
Later that afternoon, as Uncle sat beside her and held her hand, one last seizure came upon her, and when she relaxed at its conclusion, she was dead.
As I contemplated her death, horrific was the word I conjured. Ghastly, Uncle said. She lived for nine days after she last took water. Surely her torturous final days aren’t what we imagine when we think of someone finishing well.
Or are they? We saw suffering. We saw exhaustion. We saw too-short visits with longed-for kin. We saw weakness overtake her withering body and claim her faltering voice. But we didn’t see her finish. As Paul reminds us, what we see is temporary. The finish line for Auntie was beyond our seeing, in a place everlasting: she ascended into heaven to spend all eternity in perfect glory, worshiping the God she adored.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 5:1-8
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you think of finishing, what end point do you imagine? Do you think dying people can “hang on” while waiting for something or someone? What needs to happen for you to finish well? What could prevent you from finishing well?
PRAYER: Father God, thank you. Thank you for the promise of eternity in your presence. Thank you for drugs that can ease suffering. Thank you for nurses who come on holidays, who come at five o'clock in the morning. Thank you for welcoming us to the finish line when our earthly days are done. Thank you for the reminder that what we see, no matter how dreadful, no matter how excruciating, is temporary. Amen.