athletes approach finish line at track field

By Greg Schmidt, hospice chaplain

Valentine’s Day is 14 days away while I’m writing this … and I’ve already purchased my wife’s gift. That has NEVER happened in the almost 39 years we’ve been married! I’m normally the guy standing in line with about 6-8 other fellow schlumps buying flowers at the grocery store at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 14th.

Why the change? Because several weeks ago I adopted a new “inward motto.” (My new motto is undoubtedly doomed to fail now that I’m outwardly telling about it.) My new inward motto is “finish it!” Thinking about buying flowers for Valentine’s Day and tempted to put it off until 6:30 a.m. on the 14th? Finish it! Bring the plan to completion! Loading the dishwasher at the end of every day and running it vs. letting the dishes pile up for 3-4 days? Finish it! Do what’s right when no one is watching. I could go on and on with every project and thought process that involves the temptation to do anything with anyone half way.

Have I conquered every sphere of life? Oh, my goodness, no! One of the most amazing self-discoveries is just how much of my life is challenged by the notion that “I can finish that later” … and then seldom taking the time to do so. Soooo many “unfinished” projects at soooo many levels of life! Thus the need to … once again … intentionally take change of my life from the inside-out. [Ask me in a year how it worked out, LOL!]

As a Chaplain, I often discover at least one person in every family that is struggling to “finish it” when it comes to dealing with death and dying issues. Why? Most often because prior to our own or someone else’s impending death, we have failed to build into our lives that inner drive to “finish it.” So we leave things unsaid. Or maybe walk (or run) away from something or someone or a system or a way of thinking we can’t stomach any longer. Rationalization is a wonderful friend – or is that a wedge? – when it comes to putting life’s projects, places, and people on the back burner. When we rationalize, we argue with ourselves that it’s easier to just give in or stop caring rather than face the music, especially when the music is a song or genre we don’t care for. Unfortunately, sooner or later the proverbial “fat lady” finishes her song. And then we’re left to deal with the aftermath of our procrastination, whether it was of our own creation or something plopped down on us by forces beyond our control.

Maybe the easiness with which we rationalize or procrastinate is what the writer of Hebrews was thinking when he wrote in chapter 12, “… lay aside every encumbrance … and run the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … who for the joy set before Him endured the cross …” (NASB). Another version says it this way, “Strip down, start running – and never quit! Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Because He never lost sight of where He was headed … He could put up with anything along the way (MSG).

“Lay aside” whatever holds us back or stops us, such as our fear of death and the unknown, or our pride or self-centeredness or unwillingness to address difficult people or discussions. “Endure” and “never quit” rather than get so overwhelmed or so discouraged with people or systems or diseases that you decide to give up.

Obviously, the key to success was Jesus’ approach. “Jesus, who for the joy set before Him … never lost sight of where He was headed …” Trust me, the “… joy set before Him …” wasn’t the capital punishment tool of His day, the cross!

His joy was found in knowing the Father. God. The writer’s emphasis is on a relationship that gives life to this life in this life. And His joy – His intimacy/relationship with God – enabled Him to “finish it.”

The same is true of every patient we serve. Relationship/intimacy matters because it provides hope, promise, joy, peace, and love (and a whole lot more!). For some of our patients the relationship that gives hope and joy and life to them is God or church. For others it’s their spouse, children or friends. The point is that all of us need to keep our eyes on the prize of relationship-building; especially those relationships that give life and purpose and meaning to our life. The alternative is to focus on the unfortunate or horrific disease or physical, emotional or spiritual challenges we’re facing. And unfortunately, that’s where the race starts to get the best of us – and ends in defeat –  for the patient, and their family. I say, rebuke the puke … and “finish it!”

With God’s help, the help of a spouse or significant other, family members, and trusted friends, we can and will “finish it.” And we might even get to give away a few heart-shaped gifts along the way.