God in the Hospice: Where is God When You Face Death and Grief?


Is God available? Is he here? The question is raw today.

I am sitting at my mother’s kitchen table drinking rewarmed tea. It is a brief respite before I go back to the hospice room where my stepfather lays dying.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer repeat themselves in my mind,


“Our Father,

in heaven…”

Where is God when someone you love is dying?

The word translated “in Heaven” in the Lord’s prayer means “in the Heavens”. There were 7 “heavens” all the way from the farthest reaches of the invisible universe, to the first heaven, the one containing the air we breathe. So, when the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray, “Father, who is in heaven”, it means, Good Father, who is right here, as near as the air in my lungs. The Father is at the same time immeasurable, bigger than death or any other problem I face.

I pray, “My Father, right here with me, right now…”

What does the Kingdom of Heaven look like at bedside of a dying man? In part it looks like my mother who finds the strength to gently and patiently stand for hours by the side of the man who has frequently frustrated her to abstraction. She urges him to take a sip of water or just one little bite of food.

More than A Pass Code

Faith in God is more than a pass code for unlocking the pearly gates. It has to be, in Dallas Willard’s words, “the intimate involvement of God.”  God is right there in bed with my stepfather while he steps, uneasily, out of the body that has shaped a large part of his identity for 85 years. Faith is the intimate involvement of God for my mother who faces the realities of change when he is gone.

Familiar with the Kingdom of Heaven

The man who a few months ago, at 84 years old, could still wrestle a calf or throw a bale of hay, is wasting away. His outer self is down to almost nothing.

Where is God in a Hospice Room?

His Filipino Catholic friends drove for hours to come visit him. Sadness and shock are evident on their faces. He struggled to converse a bit with them, drifting in and out of sleep. They gathered around the bed to pray before leaving. He gathered his strength and led the prayer. The grandma of the clan leaned down, grabbing his arm and moving it to show him how to make the sign of the cross. My Assemblies of God stepdad quipped, “yes, that’s the right way to do it.” For an instant I glimpsed his soul again. His outer self has wasted away, but his inner self is still being renewed.  He has a hard time letting go of some of the transient things. He is struggling. But for a moment I saw a soul already accustomed also to the unseen eternal kingdom.

God with Us

The promise of “God with us” is so much more than an offer of forgiveness and a good place to spend life after death. It is revolutionary. The command to “be anxious for nothing” is no platitude. If it is worth anything it has to be a real possibility, even on this day in a hospice, by the side of a dying man, because God is as near as the air I breath.

The real world is invisible. It is now. It is God in the hospice room.

Try This:

Choose a short phrase to repeat as a prayer today. Choose words that remind you that God is near and reach for him like a small child reaching for a parent’s comforting hand.

This is part 2 of a series on the Lord’s Prayer. Read part 1 here.

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  1. His Name is a Dangerous Gift. | Beth Ratzlaff - November 16, 2017

    […] This is the third in a series about the Lord’s Prayer. Find the first here and the second here. […]

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