As a college student, I attended the funeral of a kid I barely knew. My dad was pastoring in a small town, but I was new to the area. Our family put on our darkest clothing and mourned the loss of a life gone too soon. My dad wanted us to encounter death in all its brutality. “We don’t live in a world where we encounter death much anymore,” he said. “Funerals keep death in front of us.”
What I didn’t understand in my youth, I understand in adulthood. Life is short. Death is coming for all of us.
A year ago I was staring down the barrel of life’s fragility, both for myself and also for my unborn son. A full placenta abruption is a race against the clock, the doctors told us. You have less than 10 minutes to save the mother and the baby. I had a partial abruption, meaning I was constantly hovering over a catastrophe. Every morning we awoke in the hospital wondering if this would be the day of delivery or the day of death. There were days when all I could pray was, Oh Lord, please don’t take him. Please don’t take me.
In God’s providence, Benjamin John was born crying one year ago this week. It wasn’t my time and it wasn’t Ben’s either. But that’s not where this story ends. The questions I’ve wrestled with in the months since are ones of life and death. How do you live after you almost didn’t? How do you go back to normal when you saw that death could be so near for you and your child?
Scripture isn’t silent on such struggles. In the midst of this process I’m learning several truths about life in a world where death always lurks. Here are three.
1. Wisdom Embraces Fragility
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Numbering our days doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a natural bent toward survival, toward living. We were made to live, after all. But we inhabit a world where death is ever before us. We can only be wise, therefore, if we recognize how helpless and frail we really are.
In my moments of utter helplessness I acutely felt that if I lived, it was of the Lord, and that if I died, it was of the Lord. Coming to terms with the finiteness of my days forced me to bow before the God who holds everything together (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). It forced me to lean into his character, his goodness, his power, and his tender care. Only God has no beginning or end. Our days, on the other hand, are numbered. The sooner we come to terms with this fact, the greater he becomes in our frail eyes.
2. Control Is an Illusion
We have to be taught to number our days, but when we do we’re able to give up control. We never had it anyway.
For a long time I subconsciously held onto my own weak attempts at control. I know that now. Sure, I may have said “God is in control” with my mouth, but my life demonstrated something different. I was self-sufficient. I was proud. I did far too much in my own strength. God humbled me, and it was good. It’s terrifying in the short-term to encounter death and be confronted with your lack of control. But in the long-term, it’s life and peace to give up the illusion of control and to rest in the control of a sovereign God.
3. Affliction Is Good for Us
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your ways,” the psalmist declares (Ps. 119:71). Before all this happened, I’ll be honest: I had a fairly inflated view of myself. I wanted glory for myself; I wanted people to like me. I wanted a lot of the wrong things, in fact, and so often I still do.
Affliction stripped me of things I didn’t need. But it left me with God.
But for three weeks I couldn’t focus on anything but God’s Word. I couldn’t watch television. I couldn’t play a game with my husband. I could barely have a conversation. I definitely couldn’t keep up with the latest internet controversy. I just wanted to live. I wanted my baby to live.
In the midst of affliction it’s hard to see the good. But like the psalmist, we can look back on what God has done in our life and see that nothing is for naught. Affliction stripped me of things I didn’t need. But it left me with God. Even if that’s all it did, then it was worth it.
Live the Unwasted Life
We’re all staring down the barrel of certain death, but few of us ever feel it in our bones. In an instant it could all be over. Does that reality terrify you? It does me. But it also sobers me. Reorients me. Shapes me. In many ways I feel like I was given a second chance at life. Death brushed past and God said, “Not today.” His complete power over life and death humbles me to my knees.
I’ve been reminded of Hezekiah and his second chance at life in 2 Kings 20. He got sick and nearly died, but God restored him to life and health. However, he didn’t use his health and life for good. He grew proud, and it led to the ruin of God’s people.
All through the Psalms, deliverance is always for the good of others. Yes, God delivers us from a host of things and we rejoice, but we are a covenant community. My deliverance from death isn’t so I can live life selfishly for my own glory; it’s so others will see God. It’s so others will rejoice with me at what he’s done. My prayer has been, Oh Lord, keep me from being like Hezekiah. Let my life be used for your praise, not mine.
It was good to be confronted with the loss of youthful life at that funeral all those years ago. Death is always crouching at our door, whether we sense its looming presence or not. Until the day God says I’m done, I want to live for him.