“And When I Come To Die…”, a meditation

crossThis past Thursday, I was reminded of the truth that life is fragile and brief. The husband of an acquaintance of mine was killed in a car accident while returning from vacation. My acquaintance, who was driving in a bad rainstorm, remains hospitalized in critical condition, not even knowing that her spouse is dead, killed on impact when their SUV left the road and hit a tree. Their children, other family,  friends, church members,  all are stunned and grieved.

If you’re a praying person, would you please pray for them, for the Lord’s comfort and mercy?

How easy it is to forget, when things are going well, that our circumstances can change in an instance:  A heart attack, a drunk driver, a lightning strike, a head injury–life-ending for someone, and life-changing for everyone else. 

Of course we all know that we will die eventually…just not yet. But as the Psalmist said,

“No one can live forever; all will die.
No one can escape the power of the grave.”

–Psalm 89:48 (NLT)

But God Almighty never forgets who we are, what we are. After all, He made us:

“The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.

grass
Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
with those who fear him.”

–Psalm 103:13-17 (NLT)

—————————–

I don’t think I appreciated just how ephemeral each life is until my own mother died, and I realized all the things I’d never be able to ask her:

  • the childhood stories I’d heard but never had a chance to write down–details lost for good;
  • the unlabelled friends and family, in those fading black and white photos, nameless now forever;
  • the history of  a delicate gold cross, labelled “Mom’s”, which I’d never seen until after my mom was gone–a permanent mystery.

passage[I’m reminded of a novel by one of my favorite authors, Connie Willis. In Passage, there is a depiction of death in which all the tiny specific details of the character’s life fall away from her and sink slowly into the ocean’s oblivion like so much flotsam and jetsam. We know that these bits of her life are irretrievably forgotten by those who are left alive. It is an achingly painful, beautifully written, moment of truth.]

And yet I’m not sure it’s possible to stay sane and to try to hold onto every moment, to see every detail as valuable. I always weep at the third act of Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town, when poor dead Emily cries, after reliving part of her 12th birthday:

“Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

But I don’t really think that we can realize it–or even that we should. To be truly present to each passing moment–not ever fixated on the past or anxious over the future–is often a good thing. But if we internalized each moment the way Emily does, I fear it would become idolatry.

There is a reason that the author of Ecclesiastes wrote,

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”  (7:2 ESV)

———————–

 whistlerWhen I am confronted with death, I have two choices: I can turn my eyes away and sing a happy song, as if to deny that death could ever touch me;  OR I can take a hard look at my own life. What is my hope? Where is my trust? Why do I live the way I do?

As a Christ-follower, I know that my hope is in heaven, my trust is in God’s promise of resurrection, and my life is to be spent in pursuing the work that He has prepared for me to do: fulfilling His purposes for His kingdom. Since I believe that my whole life is the Lord’s, everything I do can honor and serve God, whether it’s overtly, obviously “ministry” work or not.  And I can say with the apostle Paul,

 “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.”

–Philippians 1:21, NLT

The man whose life was lost in that car accident was, by all accounts, one who could say that, too. And so I don’t think he would mind my taking the opportunity of his (from our perspective) untimely death to ponder and write about life and death and eternity.

The Book of Common Prayer contains a phrase that it would be well for us to meditate on today:

“In the midst of life, we are in death.”

 

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17 responses to ““And When I Come To Die…”, a meditation

  1. Reblogged this on The Peanut Gallery and commented:
    Our times are in God’s hands… blessed be the name of the Lord.

  2. This post hits close to home. My wife and I had a similar experience driving in the rain while on vacation. The difference… we didn’t hit a tree. The car was totaled but we walked away without a scratch. Our times are in God’s hands.

    • Indeed, Art. All we can do is be grateful for the time given to us. None of us deserve it. Thanks for the reblog!

  3. Lovely song and video. I thank God every day for the incredible blessings I have in my life, knowing that at any moment, it could all be gone. Thanks for the reminder to tell my kids a bit more often how much I love them. To hug my husband a little bit tighter and tell him how much I greatly appreciate having him in my life.

    God bless your friend and her family at this tragic time in their lives. May she know that Jesus will be there holding her hand throughout.

    • You are very welcome, Donna. Thank you for your prayers for this dear family. There are three kids (one young girl and two teenaged boys).

  4. My sister was lost in a car accident here in Phoenix, no rain just a seventeen year old kid running a red light. I understand their sudden grief at losing someone when you aren’t expecting it. Taught me a great lesson to enjoy the time with family and friends for you never know when God calls you home.God Bless Everyone.

    • Thank you, Blaine. We’ve all been touched by sudden loss at some point. I’m glad you took that lesson from it. Life is precious, death is an enemy. I’m thankful that our God has won the final war already.

  5. And when I come to die; And when I come to die; And when I come to die
    Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus;Give me Jesus
    You can have all this world (repeat); But give me Jesus
    Lyrics from eLyrics.net

    There is a wonderful mystery to what lies beyond for us but I wonder if we do not retain all those precious memories and the ability to recreate/maintain them forever. They say a beam of light shot into space never ends. How much more valuable are we as created in the image of God and if Christians, born anew in Christ? How can any good thing we have known, loved or experienced ever truly be lost in that good world to come? When I come to die, give me Jesus! What joy that will be! What delight will be ours in that land beyond time!

    • You’re right, Brian…in the mind of God, I doubt whether anything we value is ever lost. I was speaking from the standpoint of those who are left on earth when a loved one is gone. There are too many details of my mother’s life which are lost to me.

      • If it is true that we retain precious memories when we die, then that will make heaven that much sweeter for there we shall be fully known and have all the time in the world to sit and talk with those of our lives and those of others lives without haste and share fully what we have had.

  6. I must admit that it took me a while to gather my thoughts and respond to this BEAUTIFUL post, GBL…

    For those who’ve been readers here for a while, they will recall this post (https://thabto.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/we-humbly-trust-in-the-power-of-giving-thanks/) that I penned last November.

    There is not a day that goes by that I am not confronted with thoughts and emotions surrounding the loss of my daughter. It’s the “What if?” and “If Only” games that attempt to permeate my mind and my heart. And I am confident that those thoughts are motivated by those forces that would choose to separate me from my faith. They seek to create a heart and mind of defeat and regret.

    Many well-intentioned folks will say things to me along the lines of: “I don’t understand HOW you’ve come to deal with the void in your life created by her passing.” Well, by His grace and to His glory, that void is completely filled with HIS love, and the knowledge that, despite any period of time lost here in THIS life, there is an eternity to be gained.

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. These are the words that serve me the best.

    BTW: Have you checked out the new song by Matthew West: “Hello my name is….”?

    • Wow. Thank you, Scott. I confess that I was not thinking about how you would react to the back story of this post. I so appreciate you sharing how God has filled you and strengthened you.

      And yes, that Matthew West song is great!

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