My father sat at the far corner table of La Choza’s Fine Dining in Fort Worth and said, “I have pancreatic cancer and there’s nothing that can be done medically at this point. All we can do is pray for a miracle.”
We knew dad had some kind of medical issue for some time, but the issue had not been identified until the end of September 2017. One doctor said he had six months and another said till Christmas. Either way, we all knew the clock was ticking much faster than we had ever remembered.
The greatest annoyance dad experienced was not being able to keep food down. He ate very little for the following months and this of course made him weaker with each passing day.
We spent more time going over to our parents’ home from October till his death the first of February. Each time we left the house it was an emotional punch to the face. While you have the time to prepare for events, say what needs to be said, and appreciate the extra time, your heart is ripped out every time you drove away knowing that separation was near.
During this time, my reading included Eric Metaxas’ biography of Martin Luther, “Martin Luther The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World”.
I was on a flight from San Salvador, El Salvador to Managua Nicaragua packed into a small Avianca plane when the words of Martin Luther grabbed me and sent me to tears.
“Seldom if ever have I despised death as much as I do now. It has plunged me into a sadness not only because he was my father, but also because he loved me very much and through him my creator has given me all that I am and have.”
This was exactly what I was feeling. I despised death.
While I do not suffer from the fits of depression Luther had, I was plunged into sadness. This sadness rose with every thought about the limited time remaining with dad on this side of eternity, and was amplified each time I drove away from his home.
I was sad when I thought of each time I had behaved poorly as a son over 47 years.
Luther was familiar with sadness. He suffered from depression which he called, anfechtungen. Anfechtungen meant to do battle with one’s own thoughts and with the devil.
Because of his suffering, one thing Luther was able to do well was comforting others. We see this in his writings to his mother as she was ill:
“Dear Mother, you also know the true center and foundation of your salvation from whom you are to seek comfort in this and all troubles, namely, Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He will not waver or fail us, nor allow us to sink or perish, for he is the Savior and is called the Savior of all poor sinners, and of all who are caught in tribulation and death, and rely on him, and call on his name. The Father and God of all consolation grant you, through his holy Word and Spirit, a steadfast, joyful, and grateful faith blessedly to overcome this and all other trouble.”
Luther ensured those around him knew it was ok to grieve. Further, that grieving was a process of time:
“I am not so inhumane that I cannot appreciate how deeply the death of Margaret distresses you. For the great and godly affection which binds a husband to his wife is so strong that it cannot easily be shaken off, and this feeling of sorrow is not displeasing to God…since it is an expression of what God has assuredly implanted in you. Nor would I account you a man, to say nothing of a good husband, if you could at once throw off your grief.”
Luther was a man tormented in the mind, struck by periods of debilitating depression, and familiar with death and loss. While I am no fan of the schism he brought into the world, I appreciated his confessions of suffering and sadness and his ability to speak comfort into the lives of others.
From his words 500 years ago, I found comfort. Something I thought I’d never say about Luther.