Friday, July 15, 2011

thoughts on death

Sometimes I find myself thinking about my own death, I wonder how I will die, when it will be and people’s reaction. Most people would simply call me downright morbid. I have not always been this way, but lately I have become very comfortable with the thought of death.

My wife Jen and I have been living in our new home for over a year now. Before we moved we looked at a house in the same neighborhood that was very well priced, but needed a lot of work. By the time we put in an offer the house was already pending and eventually we missed out on it. Just a few weeks ago we were talking to neighbors of the very same house. We discovered from the neighbor that someone died in the house before it was recently bought, and since it was bought someone else had died in it. My wife Jen was mortified that we almost bought a house that at one time had someone die in it. I tried to explain to her that it was no big deal, but both she and the neighbor informed me that moving into a house that once housed a non-breathing entity was certifiably creepy and unlivable. It was then that it was brought to my attention that I have an uncharacteristically level of comfort with death. I used to be terrified about the prospect of death, but two years of being a pastor and 25 funerals later I have found myself thinking about death a lot more often.

The strange thing is, the more I think about death, the more ready I seem to truly live. The more to terms I come with the reality of mortality the more I can recite the words of the psalmist:

man and woman are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow (Psalm 144:4).

We have developed this great fear of death especially in the United States. What I mean is that in our country we hide from the presence of death better than anyone else. People go to hospitals or nursing homes to die, funeral homes pick them up, they are beautified and made to look alive, presented for a few hours, than buried. We have haunted graveyards with our literature, refuse to allow children around bodies, and eliminated outright mourning in public places.

Recently I was speaking with a woman whose children were upset with her because she was mourning the loss of her husband after having lost him less than a year ago. They did not want to be reminded of the loss of their dad. We removed death from our life and put it into video games and movies to make the thing we fear the most nothing more than entertainment.

Have you ever spent time with someone who had a terminal illness and knew they were going to die soon? They usually have a very different outlook on life, and most the time a very positive one. Not that these people want to die, but they have developed a new sense of seeing that we have blinded ourselves to. Many times they develop a free way of living. They look to reconcile relationships, they see the beauty of life, and they have come to accept the inevitable. These people develop a different way to live out their life not because they know they are dying (hopefully we all know we are dying) but because they are forced to confront the very thing that most of us try to avoid.

A good author writes their book with the ending in mind. Can you imagine a book written with no thought of the end, the book just simply stops when the writer is spent? Now I know we cannot organize our life and certainly our death like that of a writer, but too many of us are not living our life fully because we have not thought about the end.

When we read about the life of Jesus in the gospels, we see a man living his life with his end in mind. Jesus not only lives his life, but lives it in a way with his death in mind. While most of us cannot live knowing how we are going to die, all of us can live knowing that we will. When the time comes for Jesus to hand over his life he does so mercifully and lovingly, not fighting, killing, or cursing the stars. Jesus’ faces his death so perfectly because he has thought about it, and knows what the outcome will be. Jesus knows he will suffer he knows he will die, but he knows that he will resurrect from the dead.

We are called to live like Jesus, to be aware of our death, to know that we will die, and to know that through his love and grace we too will be resurrected. When we keep our death in mind we become free to live our life with no fear, with no lingering regrets, and with the appreciation of everything that is given to us.

My challenge is to think of your death, to become aware fully of your mortality, to become aware of the uncertainty of life, and to the hope that lingers for us beyond the grave. If we take time to see our own death, we may find that we truly see our life, and appreciate the purpose we have been given.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Corinthians 2:40)

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