I had put off returning to my mother’s house as long as I could, relishing the long winter storms that kept me holed up at my home in Maine. But after the snow receded, leaving behind mud and brown grass, I knew it was time to return to her Connecticut cottage.
Mom had stepped out her front door in early December on her way to a doctor’s visit—one of many—little knowing she wouldn’t be back. During her treatment, an x-ray revealed a fracture in her spine, necessitating a hospital stay, then a nursing home. She died five days before Christmas.
Sorting through her belongings, deciding what to keep, what to sell, what to give away, is almost more than I can bear. To unwind, I rented a move, The Theory of Everything. A film about British physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with a devastating disease during graduate school at Oxford, didn’t exactly scream, “Uplifting!”
An avowed atheist, Hawking’s beliefs strongly differ from my own. Yet, his story is remarkable, and I’d heard the movie was well done. So there I sat in my mother’s chair, watching a company of brilliant actors depict this famous scientist’s battle with humanity.
At a key scene, during a speech, someone asks Hawking where he finds his hope since he doesn’t believe in God. “Where there is life, there is hope,” Hawking replies as the audience rises in applause.
Although the movie doesn’t note it, this quote comes from the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero who died four decades before the reason for my hope—and my mom’s—was born. If this life is our only hope, what hope do any of us truly have in the face of our ultimate mortality?
What makes my mom’s death bearable—and what helped her endure in the face of a devastating cancer diagnosis—was knowing that life is the gift of a loving creator who invites us to spend eternity with him, a provision made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others who have no hope,” the apostle Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NRSV). “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.”
Do I grieve for my mom? Every moment of every day. But unlike Hawking, my hope is greater than this life. Greater even than death.
As Christian musician Matt Maher so beautifully sings, “I believe in the son, I believe in the risen one. I believe I overcome by the power of his blood… I’m alive because he lives. Let my soul join the world that never ends. Amen. Amen.”
Most wonderfully, to receive the life that Christ offers, you don’t have to attend Oxford or fathom physics or write a best-selling book on the theory of anything. Although those of such academic ilk are certainly welcome, you only have to believe.