3 things I’ve learned from death.

[this is a post I wrote for Jamie Ivey’s blog!]

I recently wrote a blog post based on the top 5 regrets people have when they’re dying.

I’ve never personally been ‘dying’, so it’s hard to process that subject with any expertise, but writing the post did get me thinking about the biggest regrets I’ve experienced when watching people die.

This week brings with it the one year anniversary of my dad’s death.

I’ve never been one for regret.  I’m all about God’s sovereignty and all.  One of the perks of my worldview is that I am saved from the devastation of thinking my mistakes can ruin my life.

On the flip side, however painful it may be I think it’s important to take a second and think through things I wish I’d done differently in the past.  Regrets don’t have to be burdens, they can be opportunities: things that fuel change in your life.

We’re all going to lose someone we can’t live without.  In light of that, here are three things I’m fighting to do in my relationships:

#1. Embrace failings. Relationships where tension is unspoken or unfelt are relationships where death has already happened.  Conflict indicates that real people love each other enough to fight for change.  Conflict indicates that real people trust each other enough to process authentically and emotionally.

I spent a lot of time frustrated by the fractures in my relationship with my dad.  Honestly, today I would give almost anything to have the luxury of irritation or angst that indicates life.  Death swallows up all that and leaves you nothing but an aching absence.
I miss feeling frustrated with my dad.  I miss him being a real person who had the capacity to annoy me or hurt me.

If today brings hard conversations or hurt feelings, take a second to thank God for relationships in your life that are real and vibrant.

#2. Exploit the opportunity of today. It’s no secret that everyone dies.  The current death rate is up at around 100%.  We all know that tomorrow is not promised so here’s my question: why does death always seem so shocking?

Why do we feel so entitled to tomorrow when God has gone out of His way to remind us that it’s not guaranteed?  Even though I know in my head that I have no reason to expect that everyone I care about will greet the morning with air in their lungs, let me tell you, I will be frustrated angered and shocked if that’s not how it goes down.

I had two weeks with my father.  Two weeks where we knew he was dying and we got the blessing of sitting around and saying all the things we’d been waiting to say.  That was grace. It was gift from God because in His great mercy He wrote every detail of my Father’s death with kindness.

I had two weeks, but I wasted years.  I wasted years thinking I would call him later, I would talk later, I would share the Gospel later, I would say I love you later.

Don’t neglect the important for the urgent today.  Keep your mind fixed on things that actually matter.

Wherever you are – be all there.  Put down the iphone and engage with your kids.  Pick up the iphone and engage with friends far away.  Use technology, use time, exploit today to share the love of God with everyone you encounter.

#3. Avoid self-preservation. My number one regret now that my father is gone is that I thought trusting God meant becoming immune to loss.  I was so wrong.  Trusting God doesn’t have anything to do with avoiding pain.

I was in a main session at a conference in Italy when I got the news from my sister that my dad only had a few days left.  I could suddenly feel all this pressure building up behind my heart and I honestly felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t get out of there.  I walked outside the room and then outside the building and then I lost it.

Lying face down on the grass outside a hotel in Rome I realized that I hadn’t let go; I realized I didn’t trust God with my dad.  And I knew this because I couldn’t pray with all my heart.  Every word was qualified.  I held hopes unspoken in my heart in the name of ‘faith’.  It was really just a desire to protect myself from disappointment.  I couldn’t pray boldly because I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  I would be too devastated if God failed me.

In the grass that night, breathing in and out the scent of the ground, through my tears, I learned that letting go is giving God my very heart.  There are no corners left for me to govern.  I can’t manage my expectations.  I can’t try to get ahead of whatever might be round the corner.  Trusting God means walking through pain and emotion without fear.

God places His heart in my clumsy hands and He watches me fail Him over and over again, and He promises that He will never let the pain I cause Him lead Him to withhold Himself from me.  He is not afraid of pain.

Trusting God means that I engage in the relationships I have today without fear of how I might be hurt tomorrow.  I trust Him to work all things for my good and His glory not in spite of how I’m hurt by this life but through the ways I’m hurt by this life.

What are some of the things you have learned from losing people you love?

2 thoughts on “3 things I’ve learned from death.

  1. you are beautiful inside out. its funny, how i really agree with some of your posts, since i have experienced most things all the way in Kenya, Africa.

    God bless you and increase in you!

  2. I have shared this idea often with my family. A favorite passage of many funerals is Psalm 23. I think the often missed point of the verse is in the first lines that states “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Notice it doesn’t say “As God whisks me away from the valley” or “As I am hurried through the valley on the wings of angels.” It says “I walk through.”

    We can’t escape pain in our lives. Pain is part of living. As you pointed out so well, (thank you for sharing your experience!), the promise in the passage is that we may come to make that journey without fear of the pain. That we may be faithful of our experience as part of the journey and embracing the hope that it may be intended for us. Like sheep, we find comfort in the discipline of the staff and the protection of the rod that guides us up the other side of the valley.

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