Looking back, it wasn’t the greatest idea. The care home had warned me that my mother was just days from dying. Agitation was robbing her of sleep and so I decided I would sit with her through the night.
Mum was at the end of a decade-long battle with dementia. At times, the fog lifted and she was coherent. But then the confusion would return; she didn’t recognise me; sometimes she would actually complain about me to me.
To be honest, I felt rather noble and a little smug as I sat next to her, my hand clasped in hers as she snored and I kept vigil. But then, at around 2am, she woke and sat bolt upright in bed, her eyes wide with fear.
“What are you doing here?” she yelled, pondering my face in the lowlight of the bedside lamp.
“Mum, it’s me, Jeffrey. I thought I’d stay with you…”
“You…you’re no good…get out!” she hollered.
“But…but Mum, I just wanted to…”
“Get out! Now!”
I beat a hasty retreat, and sat outside her room. Half an hour later, I tried again, peering anxiously around her doorway. “Mum?”
And so I did. Excluded for the rest of that night, I realised my folly. When someone suffering from dementia wakes in the small hours to discover what appears to be a total stranger holding their hand, they are likely to scream with terror.
But then I pondered how very like my Mum I am – and you, too, bear some of the same family traits, being a human being and all. The blunt truth is this: feeling at home with God doesn’t come naturally to us.
The God who is love draws near, nail-torn hands outstretched in invitation. At times, we catch a glimpse of that beautiful heart of his and we settle, at rest in his presence. But then comes the mist. Cloud banks – formed by harsh religion, flawed parenting, the chill of rejection – billow and swirl in our minds and we recoil, desperate that he might just go away.
The prodigal son wails: “I’m not worthy” and struggles in the arms of his father’s embrace. Peter almost went on strike when Jesus insisted on washing his sweaty feet. But with Jesus, this is the non-negotiable deal: we have to let him love us.
Thankfully, help is available to calm our fears. Paul told the Galatian Christians: “Because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father’” (4:6, NLT). Abba is the same Aramaic word that Jesus used when addressing God the Father. The work of the Holy Spirit enables us to exclaim with relief that we are safe in Christ, as secure with God as Jesus is with the Father.
After an exhausting night parked outside my mum’s room, morning came, ending my time of banishment. Tapping lightly on her door, I found her awake, a look of peace on her face. Nervously I ventured: “Mum, it’s me, Jeffrey.”
“I know who you are,” she smiled. “And you’re very nice.” It was one of the last sentences she spoke to me; within days she was gone.
Perhaps what I’m about to suggest will offend some, thinking that it’s too sentimental; inadequate to describe this wonderful, mighty God of ours. But to whisper this prayer might be a step in the right direction: “Lord, I know who you are. And you’re very nice.”
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