What are we doing here, really?
When I was a young woman, the mother of one of my dearest friends died on my friend’s birthday. My friend told me after the funeral that her birthday was now ruined forever. Her brother had said, at the luncheon after the funeral, that he would never be able to wish her a happy birthday again, because doing so would be disloyal to their mother’s memory. And my friend mourned, for the rest of the time of our close friendship, the loss not only of her mother, but of the birthday which her mother had given her. Her thoughts on her birthday centered on the fact that her mother died that day, rather than on the fact that her mother had given her life that day.
For years, other friends and I tried to get this woman to celebrate and enjoy her birthday, and she just couldn’t. I have always thought that she grieved the wrong thing, that because of her focus on “losing” her birthday, she never really got over the death of her mother.
I’ve long since learned, through experiencing my own losses, that losing someone from this life is not something we “get over.” It changes us forever, does death — and it’s how we view what it changes, and how it changes what it changes, that drives the way we deal with it.
It’s an oversimplification, I think, and even a denial of the human nature with which God graced us, to dismiss grief on the grounds that our loved one is in a better place (even though they are) or on the basis that our own eyes should be focused on our ultimate goal of getting to heaven (even though they should, and the only way anyone gets there is by dying).
Here’s why. God created us and placed us in the world he made because (a) he loves us and (b) he wants us to be happy. To think otherwise runs counter to what we know about God. We are meant, even called, to enjoy the beauty and pleasures of life as human children of God in the world he made for us.
And part of our life in this world, part of our happiness here, has to do with the other human beings with whom God has surrounded us. That we love them, and they love us, and we make each others’ lives better, is part of God’s plan. We’re supposed to live this way! And so it is natural that when one of these people we love is taken from us by death, we miss them. We wish we had them back. We are, perhaps, only partly comforted by the knowledge that they are now in heaven, which is the ultimate goal for us all.
The problem for us humans is that because we’re humans, we get very wrapped up in this world that God created and put us in. We slide into a mindset that this life is the ultimate goal, and that moving from this life into the next one is an undesirable outcome. We hate and resist death, in ourselves and others, because it takes away from this present life.
Now, it’s probably a bridge too far for many people to think about celebrating death because it’s an entry into eternal life (even though that’s really what God’s plan calls for). We give lip service to this idea when we tell ourselves and our friends and family members that Aunt Rhoda is in a better place, or that little Becky is not suffering any more. But we don’t really live as though this world, for all its beauty and for all the joy that human companionship brings, is our temporary place. We go just a little too far in enjoying what God made for us. We claim it as permanent, and that makes for a traumatic time when we find out that it isn’t.
I would have loved for my friend, all those long years ago, to be able to turn her birthday back into a celebration — to be thankful that God chose that day to welcome the woman who gave her life, into her own eternal life.
I would love for myself and for everyone I know and love to be focused on living this life to the fullest, because that’s what God made us for, but always with faith at the center and always with the hope and expectation that as much as we love this life and this world, as much as we cling to it, God still has something even greater in store for us afterward.
Yes, we will still mourn when those we love leave us for that promised life in eternity. We will still mourn because that’s how God made us. But perhaps, with just a hint of what else God made us for, we can also turn our mourning into dancing, because the joy doesn’t end when our life in time ends.
And oh, my! I can live with that.
My dearest Father God, today I ask for grace to live my life in ALL the ways you have planned for me, knowing that you love me and desire my happiness, and also knowing that my happiness lies only partly in this world, and will be full and complete in the eternal life you promised, the life that Jesus won back for us by his cross and resurrection. Amen.
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