As we continue our conversation with John Wyatt on his book ‘Dying Well’ on this podcast we look at the specific temptations and fears that can come to occupy our minds at the end of life.
In podcast #049 we looked at the positive opportunities and expectation that dying well can bring.
On this podcast discussion with John we unpack the following challenges at the end of life:
Doubt and questioning the presence of God.
How the antidote to doubt is honesty which can lead to a deeper more honest trust
A picture of faith as holding our hands out to God and asking Him to feed us.
The temptation of despair and loss of hope
How an important key to dealing with despair is understanding the suffering of Christ through the suffering I am going through.
The temptation to deny death
How the antidote to this is being real about our frailty
Jesus’ transition in the Gospel accounts from being active and in control to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus hands Himself over to the will of God
The temptation of self-reliance
Why dependency is not the terrible thing we instinctively think it is.
How God becoming a dependent baby does not demean His dignity or status.
The comfort of Psalm 23 that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” it is “goodness and love that will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
You may also find of interest the following podcasts and related articles
Longing. Its something we all experience at one time or another, but find so hard to explain or define. On this podcast Andy Parnham and I discuss this “reaching out towards or yearning for something that you can’t describe but which draws you very powerfully with a mixture of joy and sadness.”
The writer C. S. Lewis put it even more potently when he called this longing ‘joy’ and described it as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction…… anyone who has experienced it will want it again.‘ As you can see these are deep areas we don’t often discuss!
Do come and join Andy and I as we explore
How a want for something (usually in the areas of wealth, health or happiness) tends to be clear, purposeful, driven by the will often with a sense of urgency.
By contrast with a longing the focus is not on ourselves, but someone or something that occupies our view and yet lies beyond our grasp or control (usually in the areas of relationships, meaning and fulfilment).
Our age-old quest for beauty vividly described by Lewis:
”The books or music in which we thought the beauty were located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them,it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Examples of this in longing for a person, place or people.
How homesickness and nostalgia as forms of longing combine very powerful emotions of loss and disappointment combined with hope and desire.
How these experiences are also understandable through neuroscience and the two sides of the brain.
Understanding the difference between what Henri Nouwen called ‘first loneliness’ (the emotional need for family, friends and home) and the need for a deeper life, which he called a ‘second loneliness.’ Here is how Nouwen described it:
”A deep personal intimacy and it is an intimacy that is very demanding. It requires letting go of many things that are emotionally, intellectually and affectively very satisfying. You must grow to realise and to trust that the deeper loneliness is not to be overcome, but lived. You must live it with trust, standing tall. You must try to say, ‘Yes I am lonely, but this particular loneliness sets me on the road to intimacy…It brings me closer to the source of love in the depths of my being.”
While this conversation may seem rather deep and esoteric, I do assure you we talk about practical implications for all of us in how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis!
Happiness! Who doesn’t want it? A recent google search on ‘how to be happy’ turned up 626 million results. Compare that to typing in ‘Donald Trump’ and you get 237 million items or ‘Brexit news’ where there is just 90 million! We all want to be happy. But what do we mean by happiness? I can be happy eating an ice cream and I can be happy meeting a long lost friend. But those two experiences are clearly very different. How can I find a happiness that leads to deeper meaning and fulfilment?
On this podcast we interview Andy Parnham, author of the book, “Lasting Happiness: In Search of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment.“ Do come and join us in this opening 30 minute conversation as we explore:
Andy’s fascination with exploring this important subject.
Western’s society obsession with defining the good life only in terms of health, wealth and the pursuit of pleasure while at the same time avoiding pain.
How the research and our own personal experience shows lasting happiness is ultimately found in relationships, meaning and fulfilment.
How the research shows the most significant factor in overall wellness is the presence of strong relationships.
The two problems of material pleasure being they fade with time and need ever increasing consumerism to produce the same ‘buzz’.
How this is not just a Western issue, as the examples of Qatar (the richest country in the world), Japan and Bhutan illustrate.
A psychological understanding of happiness as ‘subjective wellbeing’ with the three components of pleasure, engagement and meaning.
Understanding the what, how, who and why of lasting happiness.
We will be talking with Andy more in future podcasts, but for now if you would like to explore this further also see:
If your mother, father, brother or sister was rushed into hospital what kind of doctor or nurse would you want them to see? The answer to that question has been a passion 0f Dr John Geater for many years. So much so in fact that it led him to, with others, set up the organisation PRIME – Partnerships in International Medical Education. In 2006 John received an MBE for his contribution.
Do join John and I as we discuss:
How the foundation of his relationship with God, his wife Jane and family makes everything else possible.
The importance of the values of integrity, compassion, altruism, excellence, continuous self-improvement and teamwork in underpinning all medical training.
The question John likes to ask his students of “Is it right to smile at a patient?” and the responses he gets.
Understanding the mind-body-spirit connection of human beings
Seeing God at the intersection of science and humanity.
How losing the humanity of our patients is so often a root of burnout and cynicism in the medical profession around the world.
Understanding the person of Jesus as healer.
How a lack of connection with others is one of the biggest predictors of mental health problems.
Unpacking the Hebrew concept of ‘shalom’ to understand complete flourishing in body, mind and spirit and relationships.
The legacy of PRIME to “inspire those who inspire others who go onto inspire others alongside developing their medical skills.”
Dr John Geater is at the time of writing aged 73. He is married to Jane and has three adult children. He is a medical doctor and has worked in Bhutan, New Zealand and in England. In 2006 he received an MBE from the Queen for his work in setting up the postgraduate medical education charity, PRIME (Partnerships in International Medical Education). He has taught holistic medical education in 26 different countries around the world. Just before Christmas 2017 he was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Do join us in this fascinating podcast conversation as we discuss John’s life and explore questions such as:
How do you respond when bad things happen to you?
How do you make sense of being diagnosed with cancer three times in your life?
How to embrace life’s mysteries when things don’t go the way you want or expect.
We also ask John:
What was it like running a leprosy hospital in Bhutan at the age of 25?
What would you say to someone who has a terminal illness and is scared?
To explore with us from Bronnie Ware’s book the five regrets of the dying:
I wish I lived a life true to myself and not what was expected of me.
I wish I had not worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
What he is looking forward to in the life to come?
It is a commonly held assumption among many people that faith in God is incompatible with a scientific world view. Our largely secular media would have us believe that science and faith in a universal creator God is an irreconcilable contradiction. (See We’re All Materialists Now!).Yet the more closely you examine the evidence the more you realise this does not have to be the case at all.
Brian Enderle holds graduate degrees in both science and theology. In this 13 minute TED talk he explains how scientific understanding of the universe is even more amazing and fantastic than we could ever imagine.
The more you look at the findings the harder it is not to use hyperbole and extreme descriptions. Take the finding of how much of atoms are empty space. In case you were wondering a single atom is apparently a million times smaller than a human hair. Within an atom there is, according to Enderle, 99.9999999999999% empty space! That means everything around us that appears solid, physical and real is actually practically all empty space! We assume because atoms are so tiny and so numerous objects appear solid to us, but in fact they are not!
We can summarise the question by saying faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health when I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him. To break it down further into one word then it is to use the word grace. Grace means undeserved mercy and favour. When I truly understand grace then that has a profound impact on my mental health.
The best way to convey that is with a simple story.
Imagine you came to my house to stay. I had to go out and left you in charge. When I returned you say to me, Sunil while you were out someone came to the door with a bill to pay and I paid it. Now there is one vital piece of information you are lacking. It is how much was the bill? If the bill was £1 then that is hardly even worth saying thank you for. But imagine it was £20 billion and you had the resources to pay. How would that make me feel? What would that do to my mental health?
But it gets even better! Not only do you pay the £20 billion bill you actually credit my account with a further £20 billion and you buy me a new house!
Sounds crazy an even ludicrous.
But that is what the Bible seeks to convey how grace impacts the mental health and life of someone who understands it.
It is the story of an encounter with Jesus in the Gospels that is so puzzling and even confusing. A certain rich man (we don’t know his name or much else about him) comes running to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The more you think about it the more radical and even shocking is the way Jesus takes the conversation from there.
It seems like a great question to ask and in terms of who you ask the question to, I think you would be hard pressed to suggest anyone else who would have a better handle on knowing what it takes to inherit eternal life. This young man has achieved a lot in terms of worldly success and significance. You have to commend him for hungering and thirsting for wanting something of more lasting value in his life than his apparent success and achievements……….
The book Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is a classic novel from the 19th century. Its complexities and twists and turns remind me of a traditional Hindi Bollywood movie with the intense emotion and complex story line. In fact, Les Mis (as it has colloquially come to be called) is now internationally famous as a sing through musical. It has been seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and in 22 languages around the globe. It is still breaking box-office records everywhere. The original London production celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015 and is the world’s longest running musical. There are also two film of the same name released in 1998 and 2012. The most recent one has also become a widely acclaimed with three oscars and a further four nominations.
The film and book follow the life of Jean Valjean who has spent 19 years in prison. This was made up of 5 years for stealing bread for his starving sister and 14 years for numerous escape attempts. On becoming a free man he is turned away by innkeepers because his yellow passport marks him as a former convict. He sleeps on the street, angry and bitter.
However, the local Bishop Myriel gives him shelter. At night, Valjean attacks and runs off with Myriel’s silverware. The local paramilitary police officers (gendarmes) bring Valjean back to the Bishop. Valejan is expecting to be convicted and to return to prison. This is the point of radical transformation in Valjean’s life. Here is how the 2012 movie in song describes what happens when the gendarmes arrive with Valjean:
Monsignor, we have your silver We caught this man red-handed He had the nerve to say you gave him this That is right But my friend you left so early Surely something slipped your mind You forgot I gave these also Would you leave the best behind? Monsieur, release him This man has spoken true I commend you for your duty And God’s blessing go with you But remember this, my brother See in this some high plan You must use this precious silver To become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs By the passion and the blood God has raised you out of darkness I have saved your soul for God.
Valjean is the recipient of radical undeserved grace and realises he cannot live the way he did before. The Bishop’s mercy in not convicting Valjean but by giving him candlesticks in addition to the stolen silverware changes something deep within his soul.
(For copyright reasons I cannot show the actual videos on the website. You can access on YouTube the 2 minute clip from the 2012 film here and the 3 minute clip from the 1998 version here.)
Here is how the book describes the scene from when Vlajean realises the undeserved kindness of the Bishop to him: