One of the most intimidating and beautiful parts of my chaplaincy training is walking with people through their end of life experience. As people are dying, one of the elements that Spiritual Care givers can offer them is the opportunity for an end of life review.
It’s a time where they can look over their life and experiences, find the good and the bad, see where their life impacted others and the world. It’s a beautiful process.
One thing I’ve noticed, in experiences with my grandmother and now with others I’m walking beside, is the natural impulse to look over our lives. In the stories they tell me, stories that they haven’t thought of for years, I can begin to see the people they were and how their experiences shaped them to the people they are now.
Stories of war and peace, family and foes, struggles and ecstacies. All these moments in our lives feed into how we perceive ourselves and our place and purpose in the world.
Seeing the value in these life reviews, I’ve been thinking about how little I take stock and inventory of my life as I’m living it.
Do I take the moments to see where I am, my place and presence in the world?
As my days slip into weeks, how often do I strive to find the meaning in the momentous and minute?
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
Galatians 6:4-6 MSG
When I take time to review my life I’ve noticed that I don’t yet have the gentle art of balanced perspective.
Often I see only the terrible failures of self and others.
Other times I puff up like a peacock and hope that my review is being reviewed by others.
God’s words through Paul encourage us toward balance and care in how we see ourselves and our lives.
The idea of ‘careful exploration’ conjures up a minute examination of the most fragile and delicate flour or the brooding of a mother over her newborn.
The delicate and loving fingertips gaining knowledge as they tend to what they’ve been given.
If I review my present life, what would I see?
I would see work, some play, procrastination, juggling, good words and harsh, time with God and times of omission.
I would think highly of myself and badly of myself in teeter-totting measure.
But God encourages us on a different path of discovery. As he deals with us, in truth and gentleness, so we are to come to a better understanding of ourselves.
Don’t be impressed with ourselves and don’t compare. Both swings of the pendulum that lead us to unbalanced thinking of ourselves.
As we review the well and badly done aspects of our lives we’re called to accept and move forward with intention. This is the hardest part for me. I can get caught in the guilt or the pride and barrel down a path of not so wise action.
I can’t be trusted on my own. Maybe you can, but I can’t.
As we make this careful exploration we need to center it around God’s truth and wisdom. Ask him into the process. Seek his truth and balancing of our emotions and impulses.
I’ve found that when God is at the center of my interpretation, the balance is there. I can see where I’ve made good or poor choices and from there can move forward, not locked in guilt or worry.
Because the purpose is for us to move forward. To enter into that ‘generous common life’ with the people around us and as yet unmet.
Our lives are meant to be shared. The good and the hard times set in the context of community add a richness and meaning to what’s gone before and what’s to come.
So often in end of life reviews what has been most meaningful to people is their faith and relationships. How they view God can give them comfort or concern. How they’ve lived in or out of community can be a source of strength or sorrow.
Taking periodic stock of our lives can give us God’s perspective in an unbalanced world. By showing us our blessings and helping us with our struggles, He shines light upon our meaning and purpose as we explore this life we’ve been given.