Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dying Well

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “Life is not a matter of milestones, but of moments.”

There are moments in time in all of our lives that have the potential to define the rest of our lives. These are moments that could change us for all times – if we let them. I believe that I am in the middle of one of those moments right now.

An ordinary man once said, “…the time has come for my departure and it is okay with me because I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (italics mine).

Actually, in my mind, the man who uttered those words has always been to me, anything but ordinary. Those words were spoken close to 2000 years ago by one of the most devoted Jesus followers who ever lived – his name was Paul. He was a man of conviction, a man full of passion. He was a man who lived in total surrender and obedience to his Master, his Lord, his Friend. He was a man who literally died for the One he loved. To me, that is not ordinary, but on the contrary, quite extraordinary.

I have often read those words and wondered what it would be like to utter such a phrase. I often wonder if one day as I lie on my death bed, will I be able to say that I have fought the good fight, that I have finished the race, that I have kept the faith? In my thoughts, I’ve always hoped that I would be able to utter those words, but have never really known for sure. That is…until today.

This past week, two people that I knew had their earthly lives stolen from them by cancer. Both were young. One was in her early 50’s. The other, a man, was 42. Both were fully aware that their time on earth was quickly coming to an end. Both had lived very different lives.

She had experienced an incredible relationship with Jesus for many, many years. She was incredibly loved by those in her life and she played a huge role in showing others to a life changed by Jesus. I was unable to visit her in her last days, but as I have spoken with those who had the opportunity to spend time with her; they all made mention of how much love and joy and life were in the home in which she was dying. There was no ‘spirit of death’ so to speak. There was no fear or regret. There was just life. In the midst of death; there was life. And in her death she finished strong and died well.

He, on the other hand, had spent most of his life stuck in a rut, far, far away from God. This man met Jesus about 3 years ago. It was a wonderful introduction in which his life began to change. For him, however, his own personal demons would not stop their tormenting and he found himself once again in that old familiar place. About 3 months ago, I ran into him. Once again, he was tired of living life his way; he wanted to make things right with his family and with his God. Two days later he found out that he had terminal cancer. As this man lay dying on his bed, he admitted that he would rather his life today, with the freedom and love he felt in his relationship with Jesus, than his life of old; and that he would not trade the one for the other – for anything. He died a few days later. I believe that my friend finished strong and died well.

I am a follower of Jesus. I am not ashamed of that fact. As a matter of fact, I believe that I am more excited today that I am invited to follow Jesus than I have ever been in my life. I, like most, desire to finish strong and eventually, one day, die well. At the same time, I also have an intense desire, while I have been given time on this earth, to both live strong and live well.

So, today, why do I believe that the Apostle Paul was just an ordinary man who was able to utter such peaceful and extraordinary words at the time of his imminent death?

I believe that Paul was an ordinary man because my Christian friends, who passed from this life on earth this week, passed in the same way that Paul passed. These Christians who passed this week were ordinary people, just like you, just like me. But they were both filled with the presence and power, the love and acceptance, the grace and mercy of the one and only Jesus Christ – the same Jesus Christ whose spirit filled the Apostle. Ultimately, both surrendered to the call of God on their lives and they answered in humble obedience. Ordinary people experiencing relationship with an Extraordinary God. And when this extraordinary God comes to dwell within us – He takes the most ordinary of people and He changes us, enables us and empowers us to be and to say and to do all of the things that he has called us to be, to say and to do. I believe this is the key. Living a humble life, fully surrendered to the Extraordinary One who has chosen us.

For our days on this earth, may we all live strong and live well and one day, may we all be able to say, ‘the time has come for my departure and it is okay with me because I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. I have finished strong and I may now die well.’

(Note about the photo: As I was driving around town the other day, I saw this church marquee. It summed up everything that I had been thinking and feeling. I had to go back with my camera. I don’t think I will attend the seminar, I do believe that the real life experience is God’s way of transforming me.)

1 comment:

fuel52 said...

I know the point of this post was not to focus on death per se but how we live our lives as followers of Christ. Dying well is obviously a product of living our lives as followers of Christ.

I've ALWAYS had a problem with the whole death thing. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. Even praying about it through the years and knowing that I'm a child of God and what happens to us after we die doesn't cure my uncomfortablility with it. As I've gotten older I've been able to block it out of my mind but it's always there. It's one thing that I hope God can help me with before the time comes for me.

I understand everyone has a sense of anxiety about it, obviously, I just wish God gave me a peace about it, or at least I wish I am able to give myself a peace about it someday.

One of the things that stood out for me this weekend was when Phil mentioned that the "spirit of death" didn't linger, which is what dying well is about, I imagine.