Embracing Death Brings Life
"Hopefully you don't miss the party," spoke the woman across the isle. I shifted nervously in my chair as I smiled and replied, "It's okay. It's my party so they can't start without me!" Sitting in the packed waiting room of a medical lab for the third time that month wasn't how I expected to spend my evening, right before heading to my own 30th birthday party. But nothing about this year has gone the way I expected. There have been more thoughts of death than I would have liked, but also way more opportunities to choose life than I would have imagined.
I had high expectations for turning thirty. I was ready for my twenties to be over and was looking forward to an amazing decade ahead. So when an alarming symptom appeared, just days before my birthday, I was shocked. After lab tests and doctor appointments with no answers, the shock turned to fear. What if this decade that brought me so much excitement was going to be ripped from me? What if all of the future plans and dreams I was anticipating were suddenly out of reach?
It took my husband and I several days before we could even speak out loud our greatest fear: this could be cancer.
As someone who is relatively level-headed, not easily excitable, and loathes drama, this dramatic situation I found myself in was so strange. I am someone who can see the positive in any situation and always chooses hope. Yet, as more time went on, the hope I had was slowly chipped away as the possible seriousness of the situation began to loom. I hated to think the worst and be "that person" who gets all worked up for nothing, but month after month proved that nothing was definitely something.
I'll cut to the end to save you from emotional distress: I am okay. God provided the answers and the solution in a way that only He could. I didn't have cancer. It took 7 months to finally have that question answered and 10 months to finally get the "all clear" from the specialist. I can now laugh and joke when I'm having a challenging day: "At least I'm not dying anymore!"
Not knowing for 7 whole months whether you're living or dying changes everything.
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
- Steve Jobs
I hope that you don't have to be knocking on death's door for you to change your life. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity God has given me to have a fresh perspective on my life.
The truth is, though, we are all dying. Whether death is imminent or distant, we all have a limited number of days on this earth. We have a limited amount of time with our loved ones. We have a limited amount of time to do work that truly matters.
We have a limited amount of time to love hurting people and bring light to a broken world.
We need to start acting like each day counts, because it does. You and me, we just don't know how many days God has given us to fulfill the unique purposes He has created for us. Embracing death births true life.
I cried a lot during those 7 months. One of my dearest friends was my solid rock and prayer warrior through the whole process. My husband was incredible; there aren't adequate words in the English language to describe the way he loved me through it all.
Yet with all of the fear of my unknown future, I was also so filled with peace. I knew that the outcome didn't really matter. What mattered most was living every day with purpose. My priorities became clear and so many things that I thought were important were so easily left behind. I could joyfully say to myself, "If this is my last year on this earth, I'm going to make it count. I will surrender my life to God and live every day as best as I can."
I still failed all the time to love people as well as I knew I should. Fear would still creep in when another test loomed or my surgery was booked. And yet, I knew that I was beginning to live the way that God intended for me to live all along. I felt blessed, every single day.
There were many conscious decisions I made this year to surrender my will to God. There were things I committed to doing and things I chose to let go. There wasn't enough time for all the good things, I had to choose God's best in every area.
What surprises me most today is not the conscious ways I changed my life, but the subconscious changes that have happened in my life.
- I signed up for a gymnastics class with the goal of learning to do a cartwheel, even though I have been made fun of for my lack of physical abilities and I hate doing things I'm not good at.
- I held a tarantula, even though my biggest fear my whole life has been spiders.
- I joined my church's Christmas choir, because I love to sing and praise God, even if I won't be the best singer in the group.
- I committed to finally writing a book, a dream that has been just a small seed in my heart since I was old enough to write, even though I am so afraid I don't have what it takes.
I don't have time to be embarrassed or self-conscious or scared. I don't want to play small and safe anymore. I don't want to base my decisions on how it might look to other people. I want to take the risks God wants me to take and be the woman He created me to be.
Choosing life means living like you have nothing to prove and only One to please.
“When God interrupts your life, He is calling you to follow Him in a new way. By breaking into your settled pattern, He is moving you to a new place where you can make fresh discoveries of His grace. Embracing God’s call is never easy, but this is where the pursuit of a God-centered life begins, and where the shame of a self-centered life is exposed.”
- Colin S. Smith
I can tell you from personal experience that having your "self-centered life" exposed to you is incredibly uncomfortable. It doesn't feel good to be made aware of just how much time, energy, and resources you have wasted on your own selfishness. When we think we have "all the time in the world" we live as if we can keep most of our resources to ourselves. There's still plenty of time to love and serve others when we believe we have an entire lifetime still ahead of us.
We're wrong, though. It doesn't matter how much time we have left--a day or a decade or more--our sole purpose on this earth is to love and serve the way Jesus modeled during His life. While we don't have an account of His entire life, knowing the character of God gives us enough evidence to assume that Jesus lived a life of service and generosity far longer than just His few years in visible ministry.
We don't have to be dying to start living sacrificially.
The very act of exposing our sins brings them from the dark into the light. It's in the light that God's grace works beautifully to restore those broken parts of us. We don't need to fear exposure of our sins; it's an opportunity for God's mercy to be shown to us. It's also an opportunity to make necessary changes in our lives.
When we declare that Jesus is our Savior and Lord, we are accepting both His free gift of salvation AND His gift of Lordship. Choosing to surrender our lives to God isn't easy, but it's good.
If I have learned anything this year, it's that God's way is always the best way.