The Sting of Death Is Dread
This series about death might be the most relevant one on this blog. It is not going to be morbid or unpleasant. In fact, I think it will be filled with hope and I pray it will give his daughters confidence as we anticipate the inevitable. Did you get that? This is the one topic we all need, event we will all encounter, passage we will all make. One hundred percent of us will die. Death is not “If I die”. It’s “when I die.” I know at some point, there will be a comparatively few people who will be alive when he comes and, thus, not make the passage of death. But even those people will make the trip from time to eternity—just in a different vehicle.
Next, I hope you will not think that I imagine my own experience as my parents left this world, particularly my dad, this fall, is any different or more enlightening to me than your losses have been to you. I am not wiser in reflection and certainly, because of the inevitability of death, his passing is really not any more significant than the passing of any of God’s faithful people. I know all of that and yet, his death is fresh on my mind and the lessons I’m learning from it could be helpful to someone walking that path.
I’ve always been far too much of a worrier. I remember when I was a little girl, I loved to stay at my grandmother’s house. But I did not like the night time there. My grandmother was in her late sixties and I thought she was ancient. (Imagine that!) So I would go to bed in that back bedroom, but I’d often get up a couple of times before I’d go to sleep, just to “check on her”…to be sure she was breathing. I remember having a talk with her one day about death. I told her I was very worried about my other grandmother who was already in her eighties. “I’m always afraid she is going to die.”
“Oh, you should never worry about that,” she said. “God is taking care of that, and besides, she may outlive us all.” Those words, obviously, had a profound impact on me and I thought of them often during the care-giving days at Dad’s.
My dad had an off-the-wall sense of humor. He liked to shock/tease people by telling them that abrasions or bumps on his head or his broken wrist were resultant from falling from a helicopter while flying upside down. My nephew believed for many years that his Piedaddy had survived such a fall. Dad also piped up in conversation when anyone would comment on his age or health by saying “I’m gonna die next Tuesday.”
The sad thing about that quip was that it always put the reality of impending death right in front of me. The truth is, for about twenty years I stressed over just how that moment would come or what I’d be doing when I got the call or when the doctor came to some waiting room to tell me. My mother preceded my father in death by twenty-five years. It was shortly after her death that my father, then aged 70 decided to buy the family house—the place where we siblings (as children) had visited my grandmother.
I thought “What??!…My dad is 70 years old and at this time when most folks his age are down-sizing or buying little condos or townhouses, Dad is buying 20 acres to mow, a pool to maintain and a barn that needs a ton of work, and he plans to live there all by himself?!…”
But my husband thought it was a great idea. “Cindy, if he just has five happy years there, it’ll be worth it to be back on that beautiful farm just down the highway from his birthplace.” My dad had 25 happy years there. (Just one more reason I should always listen to the wisdom of Glenn Colley.)
During those ensuing years, I did not always do so well at putting things in the hands of the One who already knew the exact moment of my Dad’s passing. I prayed the words of Romans 8:28 often, but I am not sure I always let them live in my heart. I worried about things I could not control. I worried he might fall in the pool while cleaning it. I worried he might fall in the house and break something and be unable to get up and call us. I worried he might eat food that was too old to eat. I worried he’d be in a wreck. I worried he would cut himself on a power saw. I worried someone would observe he was aged and kind and take financial advantage of him. I worried about mistakes in the dosages of medicines. I just worried.
I do not know how many of these things actually occurred. I know at least a couple of them did and God blessed us with His family, the church, which was also looking out for Dad, to help us know when and how to intervene. In the final months when care became intensive and then around-the-clock, my worry intensified right along with it. Every time there was chest congestion or a fall or a hospitalization, I would wonder “Will this be the time when His life here is done?” Even in the night, at his house, I would sometimes go and check on him to make sure he was breathing. I would worry about going out to worship in the cold months, though we always did. “Will he get a cough that could develop into pneumonia?” I would worry about combinations of medicines and look online to see how different ones interacted with others. I was anxious and it made it hard to enjoy all the good moments. In short, I think I was probably far too fixated, for far too long, on his inevitable death.
Here are some short lessons that I’ve learned, after the fact, about that dread. I knew them already, in theory. But reflecting on the end of a life well-lived has helped me to have a different— a better— perspective about the dread of death that’s a very real part of its sting.
1. Since death is the entranceway to the best and eternal part of my existence, it should be anticipated with joy rather than dread. Though we are to love life on earth and consider it sacred, it’s extension is not always the will of God, nor that which is ultimately best for His children. One of my sisters, Celine, said as much to me when we were in the throes of making last health-care decisions. She was right. From Numbers 23:10, the words of Jehovah through the prophet, Balaam:
Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my last end be like his!
2. God is in control of life and death. Though He allows his ordered system of nature to prevail, He is quite the One who knows how to give His people what is best. Romans 8:28 is a great resting place for me as His child when in the valley of death’s shadow.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
3. Thus, there’s very little I can do to influence when-and-how the death call comes. So why should I spend any of my “stress-quota” worrying about that which I cannot control? That’s the message of Matthew 6: 25-34:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
4. The pearl of the above passage, of course, is verse 33. It is THE answer to those of us who struggle with dread and worry. I say this to people all the time. If you are having a tough time conquering worry in your life, get busy in the kingdom. Get busy evangelizing. Every soul you reach will drive out doubt and replace it with hope. Get busy serving needy people. Every one you feed at your table, comfort in sorrow, aid in good pursuits, or rescue from temptation will replace a bit of your despair with confidence in His plans. Get busy worshipping and studying. Every time you ingest the Word and spend time in praise and devotion, you denounce the world of sin and stress and set affections on things above (Colossians 3:2).
Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth.
5. Worry is a sin. There’s a clear difference in being concerned—about sin, suffering, sickness and any number of maladies—and in worry over that which I cannot control or that which probably will never happen. Concern motivates action. It prompts being awake to opportunities. It makes me pro-active in situations I can affect. Worry over that which is beyond my control dulls my ability to think clearly, inhibits my passion about the positive things I could be doing and takes valuable time from productivity for Him. Those in the know estimate that 40 percent of the things we worry about never happen and another 30 percent are beyond our control. When we look at these numbers, we are forced to admit that worry is a huge waste of valuable time and energy (not to mention health). God knew this long before psychoanalysts began to study it. It’s up to me to trust the Shepherd Whose rod and staff are constantly comforting (Psalm 23:1).
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
6. Prayer is the weapon. He has promised to do the “caring” for me. But I cannot turn over the worry without talking to Him. He’s made that very clear in some key prayer passages. Prayer is the closest thing to a miracle that we will experience till the trumpet blows. It is not miraculous, but it is God in heaven listening to me. It is an amazing spiritual phenomenon. Every word of that definition is powerful. God, the Supreme Creator, the One who is the embodiment of wisdom, is the one who listens. He’s in heaven, a far-away place that’s completely distanced from trials and sin. And yet He hears. He listens. He wants me to give him my burdens and He, the One who can do all things, has promised to answer according to His great mercy and wisdom. And all of this is for me—individually. He takes time for my petitions as if they were the only petitions. Faith in the power of prayer is a big part of our faith in the God of miracles. It is the practical tool by which we overcome worry (Phil. 4:6,7; I Peter 5:7).
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
One more thing.That last verse assures me that, if I let him, he will do the nasty business of anxiety for me. But for Him, it is not anxiety. It’s not hard for God. He’s powerful enough, wise enough, loving enough and knowledgeable enough to execute the very best, for me, of every situation. I’m resolving to try and let Him always do the caring for me…in my stead. He’s got this.