Summary: Funeral message for Thelma Harper Brown, who exhibited extraordinary patience during a long decline.
What must it feel like to spend every day waiting? Just waiting. Not going anywhere, not keeping appointments, not concerned about a schedule, but just waiting. Waiting through interminable days and dark nights; waiting to be fed, to be turned, to be spoken to. What must it feel like just to wait?
Thelma Brown spent many months waiting. In her home, in a hospital bed, in a nursing home. Waiting. How did she do it? How could she do it? And what may we learn from her waiting?
When Thelma Harper was born in 1905, the world was a very different place from what it is today. She was born just after the beginning of the twentieth century, and her life span has reached almost to the end of the century. In that space of ninety years much has changed.
Oh, they didn’t think so at the beginning. In her birth year, 1905, a book was published which argued that, with the invention of the railroad train and the automobile, everything which could be invented had been invented, and that there would be no significant new advances in the twentieth century! Wow! How wrong can anyone be! Just about as wrong as the father of the Wright brothers, I guess, who did invent something new, the airplane, when their good preacher father insisted that if God had meant for people to fly, He would have given them wings!
Many things have changed since Thelma was born, and uppermost in my mind is the speed at which life is lived. We do think in supersonic terms now. Unthinkable in 1905. We do communicate instantly across the miles now, and the Internet measures the speed of its signals in milliseconds, as compared with the weeks it would have taken to send a letter around the world in 1905. The world has changed. It is in a hurry. We are in a hurry. And we have therefore lost the art of waiting. We have given up the gift of patience. We will not wait.
Just hesitate for a moment as the traffic light changes from red to green, and the driver behind you will show you what I am talking about. The mere fact that both he and you will get stopped by the next light down the road means nothing. He will want you to hurry up and wait! We have lost the art of waiting.
I used to have a poster on my office wall. The poster said, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” I don’t like to wait.
Not so Thelma Brown. She had learned how to wait. She had found that waiting is a spiritual discipline, a sign of spiritual maturity. And she will instruct us about this.
Who of us can imagine what it is like to spend endless hours confined to the bed, alone. Mobility gone, the powers of speech diminished, left alone with our thoughts and our memories. Waiting means being alone, totally alone. Or does it? Or does it?
The Scripture teaches us two things about waiting, two deeply spiritual truths about the art of waiting.
It teaches, first, that when we wait, we are demonstrating spiritual security. That when we wait, we are willing to wait for God to be God, and that we trust Him to do what needs to be done, in His own way and in His own time.
Paul says, "The creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God." I hear him saying that those who have learned to wait, those who can exercise the gift of patience, will be revealed as God’s children. Their true character will come out. They will be shown as spiritually secure.
Each time I visited Thelma Brown in the hospital, though her powers of speech were greatly diminished, and it wasn’t always possible for her to communicate what was in her heart, this much I did hear, and heard repeatedly: "Pray for my grandchildren." "Pray for my grandchildren."
What does this mean? In addition to the fact that she was devoted to her grandchildren, and, obviously, they were devoted to her ... in addition to that, it says to me that in these moments of waiting, what she knew best to do was to be a child of God. To trust God. To ask God to do what God does. And not to worry herself about things she could not manage.
Hear the Scripture again, as it speaks about what waiting can reveal: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." Who you really are comes out in the waiting process. What your character is all about comes out when you have to wait. And so who Thelma Brown was came out as she asked to be joined in prayer for her family. She had learned to trust God. She had learned to wait on Him, and not to be anxious.