by Steven Clark Goad
It has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1 Timothy 1:10).
Why do we fear the inevitable? I remember my childhood bedtime prayers. Is it wrong to teach a lad to think about dying just before bedtime? I had never thought of it like that until I reached adulthood. I wanted God to take my soul if I died in my sleep. I was 5. I was 8. Then 10. “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Even after I became a Christian I fretted and worried about dying in my sleep—that perhaps God would not be willing to “take my soul.”
My wife has a Woody Allen view of death and dying. She can readily say, “I’m not really afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” She thinks dying while in surgery under anesthesia would be one of the best ways to cross over. I suppose that would be one way of not being there when it happens. She and I are not so much afraid of dying as the process it often involves: biopsies, invasive surgeries, X-rays, stiff joints, and unremitting pain. Growing old isn’t for sissies. Feebleness, discomfort, and loss of memory only add to the disquietude of it all.
Whether or not one has read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ classic work On Death and Dying (Scribner, 1997), the stages leading to acceptance of imminent mortality seem to invade the mind of the dying. The first stage is denial. It is the notion that it can’t be happening to me. Or, that since I don’t feel bad, there must be a mistake in diagnosis. The next stage is anger. Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? The third stage is bargaining. If I can only live to see my grandchildren. Let me live until the house is paid off. The next phase is depression that leaves one with the feeling of helplessness. Why bother. I’ll be dead soon anyway.
Finally, the terminally ill will accept the inevitable and perhaps even find some satisfying level of peace that says death is just part of the cycle of life. God is in charge and everything will be okay in the long run. This may be the healthiest stage of dealing with terminal illness: coming to terms with something that can’t be avoided.
We live in a world of transitions. Death happens to be one of them. One of the most difficult periods in life is when a job change is made—or when we move from one location to another, sometimes across the country, leaving family and friends geographically. Birth is also one of those traumatic crossings.
If a baby in his mother’s womb could talk, he might say, “This is great. I love the warmth and protection of this hidden place where I live. I don’t think life could get any better.” But when the time arrives he is subjected to some frightening realities. Blinding light is forced upon him, and the chill of being naked and wet outside the womb. It’s frightening crossing over like that. All one can do is weep. But eventually, nestled in his mother’s arms and feeding from her breast, an entirely new way of living is not only accepted, but embraced.
The Believer’s Hope
One of the grandest truths of God’s Word is that Christians never see each other for the last time. Our angst and sadness at the loss of a loved one is balanced by the knowledge that there is life after death. The resurrection of Christ is testimony to his power over death. When we mortals put on immortality there remains no longer the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15). We die only to be given new bodies and new perspectives, plus the glory of the Lord’s presence.
Every one of us is just a heartbeat away from our eternal dwelling place. The very idea of it ought to make us smile. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us and then return again to receive us so that where he is, there we may also reside. The Lord keeps his promises. We need not fear death or the moment it arrives. Whether we live beyond our threescore and 10 or die in our youth, eternity will grip us and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It’s not morbid to speak about our temporariness. We are, after all, mortals (1 Corinthians 15:53). Paul wrote to Timothy that only God is immortal. We have the hope of the resurrection and all the promises that go with it. A new way of living. New bodies. No pain. No heartbreaks. No more dying. Eons of foreverness in close proximity to the River of Life.
Trying to picture the new Heaven and new earth in my mind brings joy to my heart. I think of walking with my guardian angel and maybe even asking him where he was that day I almost drowned. Or strolling among the celestial flora and fauna with Moses or Paul or Mother. As the song suggests, this world is not my home; I’m just passing through. I’m a temporary sojourner on earth.
Growing Old Gracefully
One couple I know has been acquainted with many physicians in their area. With Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, tinnitus, and other maladies, this couple is dealing with the rigors of growing older. I have a theory about old age. I believe our aches and pains remind us to get ready for the crossing over. I sat beside the bed of an elder who was dying. He was so eager to make the journey to the other side that he was hoping for release that very night I was with him.
Losing my mother when she was only 43 (I was 16) played havoc for a while with my sense of security. It upset my apple cart. I had a lover’s quarrel with my heavenly Father for a while after that. She didn’t have the privilege of growing older gracefully. Cancer took her before she could see her grandchildren. It didn’t seem right. It surely wasn’t fair. But looking back on it now I see that Mother was relieved of the burdens of this life early on.
Let Them Go
My wife was the doting mother. She was hands-on in every way with our daughter. Did she spoil her darling girl? She denies it. She says, “Caitlin wasn’t spoiled; she was privileged.” No way will I argue the point. But as the perfect little darling matured and got into her teen years, guess what happened? There came a time when it was acceptable for her to leave home. College. Marriage. The only weeping involved tears of joy. How can a clinging mother let a child she would have died for move away from home? It was time.
Not only do we let go (of friends, children, careers, homes, hobbies, and even life), we learn along the pathway of living to let go of ourselves. It’s okay. Letting go is part of embracing the gifts of God. As the baby discovers a new perspective on life outside his mother’s womb, so we will discover the joy of eternal bliss in a life with the Lord that was meant to be from the very beginning.
Don’t Be Afraid
For much of my adult life I was afraid of death. It may have been more the fear of the unknown than the fear of dying itself. But one thing I know now—God is true to his word. In my Father’s house are many rooms. And one of those rooms must have my name on the door. I look forward to my homecoming. I have great expectations. Eternity is just ahead.
Steven Clark is a freelance writer in Blythe, California.
• When have you had to face your own mortality? How does it differ from facing a loved one’s death?
• What have you learned about death by watching others facing their own imminent earthly ends?
• How can you share Jesus’ hope with people who fear the end of life?
• What things can you take from this article to grow old gracefully and approach your eternal transition without fear?