It was the ninth day of Christmas, the day to sing of nine ladies dancing, or if you’re more practical, the day marking the return to work and school, and with it, the inevitable return to the natural rhythms of life. The day began like any other, but quickly, and unexpectedly, took a turn in a direction I could never have predicted.
The sad news came from many sources, as one tale of grief layered upon another. My daughter’s boyfriend’s beloved and longtime college football coach dies in his sleep of a heart attack at age 58. My dearest friend’s mother suddenly passes away after complications from surgery. A friend and well-respected father in our community suffers a heart attack and dies at age 59. A junior at our local high school is struck by a car and dies trying to cross the road.
The twenty-four hours comes to a close and I am undone.
How do we hold so much sorrow in our hearts without it breaking us? How do we as a community begin to process the enormity of this much grief? The pain is not my personal pain—I am merely a member of the community of friends. These stories of grief haven’t disrupted my family dinner table. I will still set the same number of places each night, pray for the same beloved family members each morning.
And yet, my first waking thoughts the next day were directed toward these friends. I longed to awaken and discover none of it was true, that it was all a bad dream. My private world remained unchanged—I hadn’t been thrust into a season of intense mourning like my friends—but nevertheless, I found I wanted to run from the pain.
Two of my children are still home for winter break, after all. It is only the ninth day of Christmas. The decorations are still up. My heart longs to continue celebrating with my children while they are with me. I try to shake the anguish, but find it nearly impossible to do so.
What space am I called to give to these friends who have lost so much?
Our human tendency is to tiptoe around the edges of death, never pressing too hard, and certainly not risking crossing into the emotional depths of someone else’s loss. We send a card, some flowers or a meal perhaps. We attend the funeral and thank our lucky stars, or God above, that today was not our day to become intimately acquainted with death.
But the sheer magnitude of loss calls out to me as if from some burning bush, and insists I enter in. I catch the whisper in my soul, Stop and take note. These moments where I have planted your feet today are holy ground.
Removing my shoes, I come a little closer. I settle a little deeper into their pain, no longer willing to blithely brush past the opportunity to ponder the great questions of life and death. And in this place I begin to hold in tension the deep sorrow of mourning alongside the rich lessons of hope from a life well lived.
If death is such a certain part of life, how then should I live?
Words spoken at three recent funeral services awaken my soul. I carry them in my heart and turn them over in my mind. Be present. Live in the moment—not stuck in the past or always dreaming of the future.
Thoughts of what should have beenand what could beare the enemies of what is.
Live where your feet are.
Be generous and kind. Always seek out a wide community of friends. Don’t live in isolation. Work hard. Don’t accept the word impossible. Be intentional about bringing life and joy everywhere you go. Teach and inspire the next generations. Take life seriously but be sure to enjoy the ride!
We may call this kind of intentional living, living like you’re dying, because it means you have lived without regrets and you have loved deeply those in your inner circle. I don’t know if it’s living like you’re dying; it seems to me it’s living like you’re fully alive.
The words of the Lord’s Prayer come back to me now. Prayed at every Christian funeral service, they challenge me in a fresh way. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We repeat Jesus’ prayer that we might experience the fullness of life on earth—right now—even as it is currently experienced in heaven. A day will come when every tear is wiped away and life will radiate the light of our Savior God. Until that day, we live in the tension of what we experience today and our hope for what is to come. A new question emerges.
What if I lived my life on planet earth as though the Kingdom of God had already broken through?How might things change if we all lived as if this were God’s kingdom and not man’s?
- where we wouldn’t allow petty arguments with our spouse, neighbor, or colleague to fester and grow into bitterness
- where we would refuse to be offended by every unkind word spoken to us
- where poverty is eradicated as wealth is shared with those in need
- where grace and understanding are freely offered to those who think differently from us
- where the refugee and the homeless are homeless no more
- where widows and orphans were cared for not just in the moments of crisis, but always
To live as if God’s Kingdom had already broken through is to leave a legacy that extends beyond my small tribe. It is to habitually offer grace, even when it isn’t convenient or comfortable to do so. To live in God’s Kingdom asks me to value others more highly than myself, and yes, at times to deny my own self-interest.
Am I willing to have my desires subsumed by what God may be drawing me into for the broadening of his Kingdom on earth? God’s Story is always expansive enough to care for the marginalized and to bring reconciliation and healing to the wider community.
I want to live fully alive. I want to bring light and love to every place I touch. I want to live a life that is as big as my God, believing that the Kingdom of God truly is at hand.