My mom’s birthday is tomorrow. After work I’ll be heading down to spend a few days with her. I expect that I will arrive after she has gone to bed. Too late to wish her a “Happy birthday!”, at least in person, and I think I will just stay away from putting those two words together at all. In the current circumstances they just don’t seem to fit.
What makes for a ‘happy birthday’ when you are receiving hospice care and gradually declining? At this point is it necessary that any one particular day on a calendar be made more significant than any other day? She may be having a 78th birthday but it is virtually certain that there won’t be another one, something that nearly everyone involved with her is aware of.
Suffice to say, getting a card for her this year was more challenging than usual. I have never done the “You’re the sweetest mom ever” kind of cards, partly because I remember all too well that I haven’t always been the most wonderful son. I usually go for humor, but that doesn’t seem quite right either. And no matter what kind of card a person gets, the celebration of one birthday subtly points to celebrating the next one, and we all know that this road is approaching its final bend.
To this point I have been thinking and writing about birthdays in purely human terms, but as a Christian there is an entirely different way to consider them. For the Christian the end of this earthly life is also the moment of passing into eternal life with Christ Jesus. My mom’s earthly birthday, likely her last, is near, but a moment of infinitely greater importance is approaching over the horizon.
It goes without saying that I have known my mom all my life, and in that time I have seen her faith in Jesus acted out in many different ways. She grew up in the Lutheran church, was baptized as a child and confirmed as a teen. She was a mom who took her children to church, had them baptized, took them to vacation Bible school and sat through their own confirmations. And she has been through a long period of life where her faith, as observed by me and as best as I can tell, has been dormant. While in the past 10+ years my own faith has become more vibrant and the central way to understand who I am, I am uncertain where my mom’s faith is at present, and consequently of where she stands before the Lord.
Does my mom believe in God as made known through Jesus, or not? That is my great question. Last night I awakened many times, and each time I said a prayer for my mom, that God would relieve her pain and give her peace, and that in His timing He would be gracious and call her to be home with Him.
Romans 10 says some significant things about the nature of saving faith, particularly in verse 9, where Paul writes:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Within my own faith tradition, which is Protestant and of the Reformed variety, the Fifth Point of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort teaches that those once saved by God will be held fast by Him until the end of human time and into eternity. By way of analogy, an apple tree that no longer bears fruit remains an apple tree.
My mom professed faith in Jesus at the time of her confirmation, believing that He was raised from the dead, meeting the standard of believing faith set by Romans 10:9. These two points are also professed every time one recites the Apostles Creed, a faith statement which is widely used by the Christian church.
I have no idea how God is at work inside my mom right now but I also have no doubt that He is able to be at work in her, whether I can discern visible fruit or not. As I pray for her tonight I can do so confidently, knowing my mom is held by the promise of Philippians 1:6:
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.