Norma was seventy-six years old when admitted to hospice for general debility. Norma is forward and feisty; she loves her Coke and ice cream, is adamant about keeping her toenails and fingernails painted, and proclaims, “I love being around people.” About four months after Norma’s enrollment in hospice her condition declined; she required twenty-four hour care and was not able to return to her daughter, Essie’s home. Like many couples today, Essie and her husband both had to work just to keep their heads above water.
I called Essie a few days after Norma’s transfer from our hospice center to the nursing home and asked,” How did the move go?” and Essie replied, “Mom seems to be doing alright with it, but I’m not doing too good with it. When I was fourteen I promised mom that I wouldn’t put her in a nursing home.”
I cringed when I heard those words, “I promised”. I admitted to Essie, “I’ve learned the hard way not to make promises. I’ll tell people, ‘I’ll do the best I can’, but I won’t promise. I’ve learned that I’m only human and I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve learned not to set myself up that way.” Essie replied, “But I’ve already set myself up that way. But my husband keeps telling me that I’m not Superwoman.”
A few days later I visited Norma at the nursing home and asked, “How has the move gone?” and she replied, “I’m adapting; I’m adjusting. To tell you the truth, I’m really doing a lot better than Essie is with it. She’s been crying everyday.” I explained that Essie told me about the promise she’d made and I asked Norma, “If you could go back in time what would you say to that young fourteen year old girl who promised you that you would never have to go to a nursing home?” Norma emphatically replied, “I’d tell her, ‘you shouldn’t be making promises like that; that you don’t know if you’ll be able to keep!’”
I suggested to Norma that instead of making promises we should say, “If the Lord wills,” (James 4:13-16). Norma exclaimed, “That’s what my dad always said! He would say, ‘I’m not gonna promise, but if the Lord wills, we will…’, and it stuck in my mind. Dad was a minister and if you asked anybody they would tell you that dad was a wise old man.” Norma and I concluded that when we presume upon tomorrow, we fail to appreciate the precious gift of today.
I’m reminded of Peter’s “promise” to Jesus after the Passover meal. (Matthew 26:33) He promised that even if all the other disciples scattered and deserted Him, “I’ll never forsake you!” But Jesus knew better; and He told Peter that before the cock crowed that he would deny Him three times; and Peter did. What amazes and comforts me is what Jesus said to Peter when he saw him for the first time after He arose from the tomb. He didn’t remind Peter of his naïve zealous promise; He didn’t browbeat him or rub his nose in his failure; and He didn’t disqualify Peter. He simply asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And when Peter answered “yes“, Jesus graciously and mercifully exhorted him, “Then feed my sheep.” In other words, “Just get back in the game!”
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Whenever we realize that we have not done that which we had a magnificent opportunity of doing, we are apt to sink into despair...that opportunity is lost forever, you cannot alter it, but arise and go to the next thing…go out into the irresistible future with Him…never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action,” (My Utmost For His Highest, February 18th).
You see, when it’s all said and done; the bottom line is whether or not the people in our lives knew we loved them. Can’t you imagine Jesus saying to Peter, “You shouldn’t be making promises like that; that you don’t know if you’ll be able to keep! After all, you’re only human. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Come now you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow…Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that,” (James 4:13-16).
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at email@example.com. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.