The greatest of these is love.

A diagnosis with hope

For eleven months after my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I believed for her healing. I prayed, I declared, I prophesied. We travelled the world to places where people were healed, either supernaturally or through medical intervention. We recorded her test results, harrowing as they were, so that one day, when she was healed, we’d have proof that she was ever sick at all. We saw people healed miraculously of cancer before our very eyes. We met people who were told by conventional doctors that they had six months to live, who with the intervention of alternative medicine were still alive twelve years later. We had far more faith than a mustard seed and hope in abundance, planning for the future.

But each day she got worse. Her body was failing. I found myself torn. I wanted to have faith so that she might be healed. But if she wasn’t I needed to take the time to say goodbye. I could not hold both faith for healing and the grief of saying goodbye within me at the same time. One day I turned up outside the home of dear friends, pastors who had been walking alongside my mother since her diagnosis, loving her and praying for her. I was in floods of tears.

“Please tell me that if I stop praying for healing that it won’t be my lack of faith that kills her!” I pleaded. “If she doesn’t make it I have to say goodbye. And I can’t say goodbye if I’m living in the hope that she won’t die. Please, help me,” I cried.  My dear friends, embraced me as I wept, and assured me that faith doesn’t quite work like that, and every prayer prayed counts. And that they would continue to pray but that it was OK for me to let go of my hope and say goodbye to my mother, whose body was slowly dying before my eyes.

Letting go

As I left them I gave myself permission to transition from living with faith to see the dying live to learning to simply live well with the dying. I spent the next weeks writing down every dream I had for the future with her to pull her outside of time into the life she would never know. I brain stormed names for my future children, places I wanted to travel, food I wanted to taste, even the place I hoped to one day get married. I even bought a wedding dress, though I was not yet engaged. But that’s a story needing its entirely own space.

I apologised for all the shitty things I’d done as an angsty teenager, rebelling and pushing and defying. I sang her worship as she went to sleep, fed her ice-cubes when she could no longer eat, and read a book in silence beside her when sound became an assault on her senses. Her suffering was so great that at the end of each day we began to pray that if the Lord did not heal her in the night, then he would take her home, for she could no longer bear the pain. We bid each other goodnight “if I don’t see you tomorrow. I’ll see you in heaven”. And each morning I’d wake up terrified she would be gone from me, and terrified that she wouldn’t. A month later she died. And though I was heartbroken beyond imagine, I was peaceful.

It was only five years later when I experienced my next greatest loss, that I understood what had happened in that month.

And these three remain

A young man who was a kind of spiritual son to me whom my husband and I had discipled in his freedom journey out of gangs and drugs, was killed in a car accident. We prayed for five days for him to be raised from the dead. Because we believe the whole of the bible, including all of Jesus’ practical actions. By the fifth day I began to realise he would not stand up and I needed to say goodbye. I wept the night before our last time going to the morgue to pray and said to God, “Lord, I cannot hold faith and hope and say goodbye to him. He has not woken yet. And I need to let him go. All I have left is my love. I have nothing else. I am empty.”

And as I wept with my love for this young person, I was reminded of the scriptures from Corinthians “and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”. And I understood. For there are moments in life when faith has to go beyond the finite into the eternal where we cannot yet go, and hope defers and makes the heart grow weak. And all we are left with is our love for someone. The following day I went to the morgue. I did not pray for healing. I washed his feet and anointed them with fragrant perfume, and I sang to him of my love. And I wailed like I’d never wailed before. And then I let him go. And I knew in my heart, beyond a shadow of a doubt – for I was so empty that there was nothing left but shadows – that I had given him every single thing I had. And now I knew, why the greatest of these was love. Because sometimes it’s all we have left. And it is enough.