Faith Stories: The Love That Surpasses All Knowledge
Last August I sat with my grandmother and discussed her heartfelt desire for her family. She had accomplished her life’s dream of family – to marry and raise children in faith with the only man she ever loved. The love between this wife and her husband produced seven children, eighteen grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren. She believed her legacy to this world was her family, of whom she was very proud, and on more than one occasion was heard to say, “My grandchildren are my heart walking outside of my body.” Each of us was confident that we were her favorite; she just had that way – she exemplified Christ-likeness.
Maw Maw was 87 years old, and only 18 months prior had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease, making breathing harder and harder each day. Now always tethered to an oxygen tank, this woman who was never sick a day in her life and seemed to always operate at 110%, grew to fear becoming short of breath – getting out of the tub in the morning, preparing a meal, moving from one room to the next. She soon grew anxious about even leaving her home, imagining a failed or empty oxygen tank leaving her without wind in her lungs. In spite of this she often minimized or dismissed her discomfort and anxiety in an effort to shelter those she loved, taking strength in the Lord with a faith that did not wane. She prayed for freedom from her disease, but ultimately and consistently succumbed to God’s will. In the last days, her disease rapidly progressed to the point where carrying on a simple conversation was too much for her. Thankfully, God gave me the opportunity to have another conversation with her, about our love for each other, as per the norm, but this time also about her desire for her family, an important message she conveyed to me so that I may share it with those she loved. Up to this point, I had spent my 42 years engaging with her in conversation and relating to her as a child, her grandchild; as a teen, as a mother, as a business professional, as a wife, as a woman. With me, and all of those in our family, she shared her life not only in words but through action, always setting an example, always mindfully directing us in the way that Christ should have us go, candidly calling upon her own experience to reinforce Christ’s message.
On a beautiful summer Saturday afternoon I sat beside her in the quiet cool of her bedroom, sunshine streaming in the window, and listened to Maw Maw as she softly spoke, winded, eyes closed as if to imagine the prayer for her family coming to fruition. She reminded me of Ephesians chapter 3, which contained the language she wanted to share with her family, scripture that I had coincidentally begun to study about the time Maw Maw was first diagnosed with her illness, not knowing at that time that God was working in me to delve into, understand and share His word, thanks to the prompting of our Pastor during a Sunday morning service. Ephesians was scripture that she and I had discussed at length, but it became more poignant as her life neared its end. She entrusted me, her eldest grandchild, with the responsibility of sharing her prayer for our family with our family, but as she told me, not in her words, but in the words of the apostle Paul, specifically from his letter to the Ephesians:
That is why I kneel before the father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes it name, and I pray that he will bestow on you gifts in keeping with the riches of his glory. May he strengthen you inwardly through the working of his Spirit. May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself. Ephesians 3: 14 – 19.
In his letter, Paul praised God for the gift of redemption through Christ’s blood and the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ch 3, v 7), encouraging the Ephesians’ devotion to God. Paul’s words are powerfully moving as he conveys the infinite measure of Christ’s love for us, and his desire for us to experience that great love beyond knowledge. Accordingly, it was the desire of the matriarch of our family for each of us to know the Lord in our lives, to feel Him in our hearts and to take comfort in his boundless love poured out on us by grace alone. The life she led was one of faith, and Paul’s words aptly summed up her faith-walk, while encouraging those she loved to accept and embrace the same.
One week after our conversation on Ephesians, on the following beautiful Saturday afternoon, it was my honor to share Paul’s words with our family at Maw Maw’s funeral mass. I felt the Holy Spirit’s comfort and He empowered me to share Paul’s words, the prayer for my grandmother’s family, with fire and passion and faith. And while I previously envisioned that my grief might consume me at that moment, making me unable to share the message, the Holy Spirit filled my heart with joy and conviction, and I smiled from the pulpit, as in that moment I knew that love that surpasses all knowledge.
St. John’s prepared me for this special day and aided in the fulfillment of my commitment to my grandmother. Maw Maw knew this and was pleased.