Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not Feelin' It

My grandma has lived with us since she had a stroke about three and a half years ago. Over that time, her ability to function has drastically declined; she has been diagnosed with more strokes as well as vascular dementia (similar to Alzheimer's).

This condition has completely altered her personality, compromised her ability to reason and think, and made her unable to deal with basic daily tasks such as the toilet and bathing. At this point, she requires 24-hour care and supervision so that she does not accidentally hurt herself or others.

Today I spent the afternoon and evening with her. She was having hallucinations the entire time, but she talked about them to me as if they were very real. Among other things, she saw a dog, a girl, a baby (behind her pillows), two mice in her bed, needles, water on the floor, threads, and her sister from out-of-state.

Every time she would reach for something that wasn't there or ask a question about an invisible visitor, I responded by telling her that these things weren't real. She knows that she has had a stroke, and so I explained over and over that she was having some trouble with seeing things that weren't there and that she was safe from mice and whatever else she was concerned about.

I thought this would calm her, but she continued unfazed, often telling me I was wrong. My words of comfort and reason meant nothing.

Grandma: Is it raining? (holding her hand up to feel for water)
Me: No, we're inside.
Grandma: Yes, I know, but do you feel rain?

Grandma: Is the little girl ok?
Me: There's no little girl. There's no one here.
Grandma: Yes, that's right, only you and me.
Me: Right.
Grandma: I think I should check on the little girl.

These conversations can become very sad and difficult because there is no communication happening. She refuses to believe that what she perceives could be faulty.

While I was watching her pursue investigations into people whom I assured her were not there, I was struck by the thought that it's human nature to trust what we see and feel over all else - even testimony of the truth.

In times of darkness, when I feel so alone and don't sense or see God moving, it's very easy to rely on my own perceptions as reality. I can often be overcome by the feeling that there is no end to our trials, that no one will ever understand, even that God doesn't care. And I can start to lean into that, even in the face of scripture that refutes me entirely. How many of us trust our own feelings and experiences over what we read in the Bible?

If I think about my experiences with my grandma, I can recall the many times I've lovingly tried to calm and correct her by exposing the deception of her hallucinations and revealing to her the truth of reality. I have been rejected repeatedly as she persists in trusting her feelings over my testimony of the facts.

It is convicting to me that during times of darkness when I read God's Word, I must trust in what it says above all else and not let my heart or my eyes lead me astray. The world is full of deceptive messages, false claims, hollow philosophies, and circumstances that are confusing. My heart is full of wrong ideas, flawed logic, misguided justifications, and the insidious influences of human sin. The only way to get through this dark time is to trust the light of the only pure truth there is in this world, the Bible.

When I look to the Bible, I see example after example of people in dark and hopeless trials - Abraham who had no child, Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and landed in prison for a crime he didn't commit , Esther who risked her life to approach the king and save her people from mass murder, Ruth who lost her husband and followed her mother-in-law in poverty, Job who lost it all but refused to curse God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were about to be burned alive for their faith but held firm...

These people all had no reason to feel hopeful, but against all hope they believed God and were not put to shame. It is to our great advantage in the darkness not to trust our own flawed sense of reality to guide our choices. Doing that is like relying on a broken compass in order to get us to our destination. Instead, we must trust in the Word of God above all else, like a lighthouse that is shining our way safely home.

"Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame."
Isaiah 49:23

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