Recently I was asked to comment on health care surrogate forms and power of attorney for health. For these I use the term living wills. These are directives that a person records to be used in the event that they become unable to communicate their wishes with respect to medical decision making. This seems fairly simple. Don’t we know how we would want to be treated? Some might say, “I never want to live, unable to communicate, in a nursing home” and record in their directives that they are never to be placed in a nursing home.. Should we be making decisions like this about our future? What if the Lord’s good plan for our life includes the very thing we direct people never to do? See my blog posting titled, Living Wills – Never put me in a nursing home.
Or we might say,
If I become incapable of expressing my wishes and my physicians declare me to have a condition from which I will not recover, then I wish to have all life prolonging procedures withheld, including, but not limited to, artificial nutrition and hydration, and life support including intubation and ventilation.
This may seem relatively straightforward. If a person has terminal cancer that has spread through their body and is expected to result in death within weeks, few would argue that such life sustaining therapy should be initiated. What if the condition is a stroke, that leaves some significant permanent disability and a swallowing problem but is not expected to lead to death as long as simple nutrition is maintained? Should one withhold feeding from this person? Is this situation not similar to the one of saying never put me in a nursing home? What if the Lord’s good plan for your life is that you spend a portion of your life, disabled from a stroke and being feed through a simple feeding tube? What if the Lord’s plan then involves you, in your disabled condition, being a witness of the goodness of God to those around you? Can contentment and acceptance of the Lord’s plan, even a plan like the one described, be a testimony to the power of God as He works in or through a persons life to bring unexpected blessing?
Having observed a number of elderly people who end up living in a nursing home with significant disabilities, it is amazing to see the zest for life that is often displayed. I wonder how many of these people would have said during the prime of their life, that they would rather die then end up disabled and even confused in a nursing home? Is it really possible for us to know how we will feel, prior to actually experiencing what it is like to be in the situation that we think we would dread?
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12,
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Corinthians 12:7-10, NKJV)
It appears that Paul had some kind of significant physical problem that was not going away. In the end the problem was not taken away but Paul chose to accept the infirmity or to be content in it. Even more, He saw that God was at work even in this and was willing to be part of that work. As we consider the trials of the latter days of our life, are we content to follow the path that God has for us. Are we content to say to the Lord, not my will but thy (your) will be done?
Is there a link between our trust (prov 3:5-6) in the Lord’s ability to care for us (Matt 6:25-27) and the directions that we feel compelled to record in a living will? Does what we record acknowledge the Lord’s sovereign role in our lives? Are we more concerned about what we feel willing to accept rather then what the Lord has for us? Do we really believe what is recorded in Romans 8:28,
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, KJV)
Do we really believe that God is the author and finisher of life? Do we believe that God is in control and works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? How often are living wills and expression of our desire to be in control of our lives rather then to submit to the ways of the Lord?
When it comes to the latter days of our lives, are we following and acknowledging what Solomon instructs in Proverbs 3:5-6.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)
What Solomon says follow these well known verses in interesting.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil. it will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD; nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:7-12, NKJV)
To what extent are we at risk of recording our own wisdom in a living will rather than being willing to go the way the Lord takes us? If we strive in our living will to avoid suffering, could we sometimes be at risk of not accepting some chastening that the Lord, in his caring way, has for us?
As Christians we have the promise of a complete restoration, and the promise of a new body, without any sickness. We are also taught that patience is a fruit of the spirit, something that we should desire. About trials, which includes the suffering of life in our latter days, James teaches
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, NKJV)
Are we taking these things into account when we in a living will try to setup our future so that we will not suffer beyond some point of our choosing, do we think about these things?
Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily ensnare us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher (or perfecter) of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2, NKJV)