Some years ago, I stood at the bedside of my 63-year-old brother, Ordell, who was dying of a brain tumor. As I looked at his swollen face, blinded eyes, and atrophied right arm and leg, I was amazed that he was but a caricature of an older brother I had known all my life. His 20-month battle with cancer was obviously coming to a close, and impending death loomed in his room.
Our family has always loved to sing hymns and choruses we had learned in church through the years. We brothers often sang and harmonized in worship services while our mother played the piano. Ordell had a soft voice that was easy to blend with others.
Before he lost consciousness for a final time, my other brothers and I decided to sing around Ordell’s bed, for we knew he would try to sing with us. As we began to sing familiar songs, Ordell’s beautiful tenor voice became a high-pitched wail, and his words were indistinguishable. It was heartbreaking to watch and listen as he tried to worship with us.
With the last of his strength, he grabbed my hand wanting me to raise his arm in an act of worship. When I did so, I also lifted up my head because we both felt a need to look up. We all needed to look away from weakness and pain, from sickness and human limitations.
Through tears, I sang as my brother wailed, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!” Suddenly faith replaced melancholy and deep grief! By gazing upward, I realized that God was putting the capstone on my brother’s journey of faith. Praise filled the room as I raised my brother’s feeble limb in a final act of worship. Three weeks later, Ordell finished his earthly sojourn to rest in the arms of the Christ he had trusted all his life.
As I raised my brother’s hand, I was reminded of King David’s expression in Psalms 5:3, where he said, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to you, and I will look up.” In one of his darkest moments, during the rebellion of his son Absalom, David wrote Psalms 3:3, “But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.”
Perhaps King David was suffering from the “paralysis of analysis” examining all the possible factors that caused his own son to turn a once-adoring nation against him. Self-condemnation would have driven him into the loneliest cave of depression in the wilderness. He needed help to look up – where hope is reborn, love is rekindled, and a distorted outlook can come into focus.
We all live too much with our heads down, looking at the perimeters and limitations of life. Ten of the 12 spies Moses sent into the Promised Land could see only the giants, the walled citadels, and all the reasons why the people of Israel could not enter the land of Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb looked at the same set of circumstances through the promises of God.
But how different even the darkest circumstance can appear when we look upward. Circumstances, even my brother’s death bed, can make more sense when seen from God’s perspective.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.