Dying, in Death and in Life
Nothing shocks our lives more than the sudden death of a loved one…lives forever changed. We surround the bed hoping for a miracle, hoping our loved one will rise up and walk, but it does not happen. Would witnessing such an event lead those present to seek the Lord? Perhaps. I am reminded of the Rich man and Lazarus, both having died, but their destinations at opposite ends. The rich man believed that if his brothers would see Lazarus rise from the dead, certainly… they would believe in Him. Scripture says different…
Luke 16:27-31 (NKJV)
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
You were in your car driving to place you can’t even remember, in the shower, in bed sound asleep, in class, at work taking care of customers, playing with the kids, eating, you were doing something, or just relaxing, then you got a call. The one downfall of cell phones, quick access. You say hello. The person on the other end hesitates… then you cling to your phone in disbelief. Response to the news depends on the relationship. In my case, it was a niece I had not seen since she was a child. The first born of one of my eight brothers… gone in the blink of an eye.
We are a tribe of 14, with ten surviving siblings, ages ranging from 55 to 77. My niece was 42. Our parents had died years ago, along with four siblings, two within the last twelve years. We had yet to experience the loss of one of our children. My niece leaves behind four children from 17 to 22 years of age and grandchildren.
It’s so true that no parent wants to outlive a child. It was not I who lost a child, but the thought of such a thing coming to pass…well…it’s not easy thing to face. I felt bad that one of my brothers had to be the first. If that’s not difficult enough, to realize that anyone of us could have been first…well…it kind of shakes your foundation a bit. So my heart breaks. I can recall, that until the day she died… my mother’s would heart break with tears streaming down her face when she remembered the two small children and her 12 y/o brother she lost to death.
Somehow, experiencing the sudden loss of a loved one is a bit different than dying from an illness, though no less a shock and no less prepared. I can recall watching my friend fading away and feeling so helpless, so I would cried out to the Lord. And when she finally took her last breath I was not there. And worse I had to hear of her death on Facebook. With an illness God’s mercy gives us the time to think about things, even how we’ll get through it and there is so much involved in facing a serious illness. I wouldn’t even downplay it. But even when illness catches us of guard, we can turn to the Lord and pray for strength and healing, but the same cannot be said of sudden loss. We can only pray for the Lord to give us strength and healing to deal with the loss. Although we can never know the exact moment we will take our last breath, even in facing a terminal illness, that moment will come. So in our mortal body we make it our mission to treasure our loved ones while on earth, that’s if…we are so inclined. Not every feels the need to make things right. When we don’t, for whatever reason, we tend to regret it once a love one dies… at some point anyway… at that point it’s too late. No reboot. No turning back the clock. No rewind. No do over. Only flash backs of all the hurtful/ angry words exchanged, pointless arguments, pointing fingers, etc. etc. etc. Life happens.
Life happens, sometimes it’s like a sweet melody that we replay over and over again, or like a Monet painting. Sometimes, it’s like a Jackson Pollack, or Picasso painting, full of stuff splattered and shattered all over, confusion, turmoil, anger, frustrations etc. etc. etc.. Regardless, it’s a life worth examining through the eyes of the living God.
At the start of life, death is far from our thoughts, even though we know that death is inevitable! Death is a big part of living, yet we rarely speak of it. I know most people think it’s morbid to speak of death and that it’s often depressed people that obsess with the idea. I don’t always believe that’s true. I tend to believe that when people accept their mortality they tend to prepare their loved ones for their eventual departure. And that can look different for everyone. I remember, when I would do something asinine, my mother telling…”I’m going to be dead one day, what are you going to do then?” And, of course I always had some lame comeback. After hearing that remark so many times at one point I told myself , that if my mom died, I would die right along with her, but that was long before I had my own children. Nevertheless, it was her way of telling me that she would not always be here for me. It did not sink in the first thousand times, but then she had a stroke, it then became very real. She was already in her 70’s and still me teaching lessons.
My mom taught me quite a bit about how to be a compassionate human, in spite of how the world treated her. The world did not treat her/us well, but God’s mercy was always near. My dad abandoned our family when we were very young, and my mom never seemed to harbor any ill feelings toward him and she also expected me to show him respect. That was not easy for me to do, especially, when he died.
The relationships my siblings and I have had with our children cover the spectrum of childrearing. It’s a birds eye view of how much of who we are… was shaped by the way we were reared. Even the way my grandkids are being parented is much different than the way I parented and the way I was parented. Even our relationships as siblings look different. Still, it’s a travesty that my brother had to grieve the loss of his first daughter in the face of criticism and judgment because of his childrearing practices. I did find it quite interesting to hear various comments on the things my mom would have said… had she been alive to witness this debacle. And all I heard in my head was … “it does not matter…he is still your father and you will show him respect.” From the time I was four until the day he died… I was commanded to show respect to a man that abandoned me. Believe me, that was difficult. However, God in His infinite wisdom had a lesson waiting for me through that experience. And I am more than sure that many of you have been taught that lesson.
Although, it appeared my niece believed in God, I am well aware that it’s during these times of adversity, that we tend to turn to God. We don’t necessarily seek Him. We may not live as children of God. We just turn and expect Him to be there to comfort us. And it is His mercy that we encounter. When the time comes that we are able to move on, we make every effort to make our loved one proud, to live to remember their memory, we create alters for them and put them on display. And God is put back in His place. We all mourn in our own way, but that’s been my experience.
The death we experience when we accept Jesus into our heart and allow Him to work out all the muck and mire we have collected since birth…there we die to this wretched flesh, that unchecked can make us do unspeakable things. It is in experiencing that death that will bring us closer to the God that raises people from the dead. I do believe that God can raise people from the dead, if He so chose. My God is a living God and He can do everything He said He would do. I also believe that it’s the spiritual death that we must experience to get to that place…that place where Lazarus sat when the rich man reached out for a drop of water to cool his tongue. That place of comfort that God promises to those who believe is where His children will go when their journey on earth is finished. And we don’t know when that time will be. And that journey will look different for many of us. Thus, I am always reminded that our battle is always against the spiritual forces of darkness. It has taken me many years to realize that truth.
Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
So, I had to say goodbye to my niece with a heavy heart, never knowing if she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior, but always hopeful, as only God knows the heart of any man.
My prayer is that the Lord will use this one life, this one loss, unexpected as it was…for us anyway, to bring healing in all its facets to those souls touched by this one life, good or bad.
Psalm 103:15-17 (NIV)
The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
Ecclesiastes 9 (NKJV)
9 For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. 2 All things come alike to all:
One event happens to the righteous and the wicked;
To the good,[a] the clean, and the unclean;
To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice.
As is the good, so is the sinner;
He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
5 For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of them is forgotten.
6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished;
Nevermore will they have a share
In anything done under the sun.
7 Go, eat your bread with joy,
And drink your wine with a merry heart;
For God has already accepted your works.
8 Let your garments always be white,
And let your head lack no oil.
9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
11 I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.
12 For man also does not know his time:
Like fish taken in a cruel net,
Like birds caught in a snare,
So the sons of men are snared in an evil time,
When it falls suddenly upon them.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:1, 4-5 NIV