Bill and I are binging today on a TV movie series, The OA, described as a “spiritual thriller”. In it there’s a lot of speculation about Near Death Experiences, “NDE”, with an obsessed psychopathic scientist holding a group of NDE survivors prisoner as experimental subjects. One of them figures out a way to out-smart the scientist and gets away after seven years in captivity.
They seem to have one thing in common- each has a strong will to survive and each appears to have made a choice to return to life in the midst of their NDE.
At a time when I was very emotionally traumatized and confused, I had the distinct sense that God was telling me, “If this is too hard for you, you don’t have to do it.” I thought at the time that I was being given permission to die, to simply cease to exist. I said to God (or to myself?} in that moment that I wanted to live. I had had no suicidal ideations. It simply was not in my mind to think that way. We had a grandchild due in two weeks and I had a strong determination to regain the use of my mental faculties, to get beyond the confusion and be myself again, for myself and for my family. Months later, while talking to my Christian counselor, I told her about those feelings. She said she believed that each of us, at some level, has a choice, psychologically, to strive for wholeness and health, to adapt and survive whatever hurt we’ve experienced, or to simply give in to a sense of hopelessness, of victimization, of not seeing our will as strong enough to survive the pain we perceive ourselves to have experienced. In essence, we can choose to be victims or overcomers in life, in all its small or large hurts and disappointments. When confronted with the “big one”, the choice that we believe may mean psychological or even physical death or incapacitation for us, our true courage and psychological strength is tested, or perhaps it is simply revealed. Where will we have found the strength and courage to get through the pain of that moment? In our own intellect? In our physical prowess? In what we believe is our ability to bend life to our desires? In our dependency on someone or something that makes us feel strong and able?
In my spiritual bent, I think that it is God, and the true nature of our relationship with God, that gives us the strength and courage to move forward in the midst of difficulty or pain or, if it is too much for us to bear, he comforts us in the place where we choose to stay (because of fear, or weak faith, or unwillingness to leave someone or something behind), or he takes us home to himself. But we are never alone. God is always there. We may know God and recognize his presence or not. It doesn’t matter. God is still there. And even in those moments, God is attentive to our will and our desires and allows us, I believe, some degree of choice…..to continue striving for wholeness if God’s decision is that we are up to the continued fight, to accept life in all its brokenness, or to hold out stubbornly for the hope that God will redeem it all or work a miracle for us.
I’ve had a sense, born of observation of several people in their dying months, weeks, days, and hours, that there is an element of God honoring something of one’s choice about the circumstances. Perhaps it is expressed in the timing seen in one’s desire to linger with a family member a little longer, to not be a burden to family, to get right with God or someone else on some matter, to hear one last prayer or song, to experience one last touch or comfort, to be given permission by those one loves to “go”, to be at peace or out of pain, or even to slip quietly away while no one is watching.
Not just in the physical realm, but in the psychological realm, I think God is ever present and allows us a degree of choice in the midst of struggle and desire for healing. Some choices will bring peace and acceptance. Some will bring healing and abundance. And some will bring continued angst and struggle. Those are not God’s choices for us, I believe. They are ours. We make them sometimes with too little information, with too little trust in the goodness and love of God, and with too much demand to know the future before we surrender to God’s will and say “yes.” The Apostle Paul said, “I have LEARNED to be content in all circumstances.” We can learn or we can continue to demand that the lesson be offered to us in different ways more to our liking, like one captcha after another that we keep typing incorrectly. We may be offered new lessons or we may simply find ourselves taking the final exam unprepared.