|Photo Credit: Beni Ishaque Luthor via Compfight cc|
In the last three weeks my family has been rocked by two unexpected deaths. First my Uncle Gerald, who was doing poorly in a nursing home but might have lingered for years, was called Home after a stroke. Then my great-grandfather died, when everyone expected my great-grandmother to go first.
Experiences like that make you look at death in new ways, examine your reactions to it, and try to make sense of things.
You and I are young, and our faith is in Jesus. The grave has been conquered, and our lives lie ahead of us. How does death touch our lives besides leaving painful holes? Is it possible to carry more away from a loved one's passing than the cliché "live like you were dying" (which is a high-pressure, practically impossible sentiment anyway)?
After looking back on the deaths of five precious people in my life, I've gleaned five lessons that death. Perhaps they will help you somehow, whether or not you have ever lost someone near to you.
- Never lose an opportunity to bless others. Every day brings our loved ones one step closer to leaving us forever. This isn't morbid, it's just facing the facts, and it urges us to treat everyone as if they had a fatal illness. Because they do. Take time out of your schedule, money out of your bank account, and love out of your heart to spend on others.
- Don't ignore people "on the fringe." A few years ago my 19 year old friend lost his life in a car accident. We weren't very close, hardly more than acquaintances, but that was mainly because I kept him at arm's length. He was "different" than me, so instead of breaking through boundaries and befriending this young man, I let him die and leave me with so many regrets.
- Value the elderly. Last spring I lost one of my dearest friends, a 98 year old man named Byron who was like a third grandfather. He taught me so much with his love, wisdom, and insight, but only because I spent time with him. If I hadn't visited him once a week for several years, he would have been just another old man, but because I took the time to get to know him, I was blessed beyond my imagination.
- Invest in people, not stuff. My great-grandfather was a dear man, beloved by many, but his last years were marred by a spirit of selfishness. He hoarded his money for no apparent reason. He wouldn't even repair the roof (which was falling in on him and his wife) because it would cost too much. He wouldn't get rid of his junk because he hoped to get some money out of it. Where were his priorities? "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20). We all love our "stuff," but it's gone too far when our money and possessions get in the way of the people around us.
- See what a good life looks like. I don't know about you, but I tend to set incredibly high standards for myself. When I die I want important people at my funeral, I want awards and special ceremonies, I want to be remembered as an amazing person. But when my Uncle Gerald died I realized that even though he might have been unremarkable, he lived up to what Jesus calls each of us to be: someone who loves God and loves people. Everyone called Gerald "a good man," and the truth is that if we accomplish that much in our lifetimes, we can consider ourselves successful.
What has been your experience with death? What did you learn from it?