Now that Christmas is over, I guess I have the freedom to write about depressing topics without feeling guilty. Man, what is the season of Lent going to look like? 🙂
I have mentioned in previous posts that I’ve been going through what I am affectionately calling my “season of death.” It has lasted for almost 3 months. I have been experiencing people (from a distance) die and others grieve for them. I have thought a lot about death, what God does with it, and what heaven might be like. It has been a time where some new and unexpected fears have come out of the closet (can there really be any more hiding back there?).
I believe it started last spring, as I was sitting on Pastor Bent Meyer’s couch with Jason. He was talking to us about faith, hope, and love. If I can remember correctly, he said that faith looks back on the past and what God has done. God’s love is the thing we have to hold onto now. And hope is what we long for in the hereafter, what keeps us moving forward in faith and love.
As we three talked and shared stories, he said to me, “Elisabeth, it sounds like you don’t have much hope.”
So, I started to wrestle with that. It was a new concept to me that that may be part of my problem. But he was right–I was having a hard time desiring heaven, or even imagining it. It was something Scripture talked about, but it seems so far removed and well, not very interesting. I wanted to cling to what I had here on earth. I hate to admit that is what I thought, but I did.
I have thought about Bent’s comment numerous times since then. If I didn’t have hope in heaven, did I really have hope in God, in heaven’s Creator? If heaven seemed boring and undesirable, did I feel that way about God? Yes. I didn’t know what to do with that and I didn’t come to any conclusions in the several months following. Time passed (sometimes the very best thing that can happen) and I planned a wedding.
Then we got married. It was great. And shortly after that, I started having these fears that Jason was going to die. They just sort of came and were not directly connected to any recently traumatizing event. I know there are connections back in my personal history, but how that helps me deal the present result, I’m not always sure. Right around that time I heard Pastor Mark preach “A Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Death.” I wondered if God was preparing me for something. Sometimes I was afraid about what that might be.
Then Christian died. The reality of death came crashing in after that in a way I have not felt before. I never met Christian, I only knew of him through Jason’s stories. But after his death, I have thought about him a lot. I still think about his wife, Liz, and pray for her. I wonder what God is thinking and what His plans are with this. I wonder how He is showing up in Liz’s life now, and the rest of Christian’s family. I imagine Christian in heaven meeting interesting people. It’s an experience I feel sort of weird about sometimes, probably because I am feeling things I have not felt so deeply before. And, they are for people I don’t know.
Right before Jason and I left for Christian’s memorial service, he asked me to read A Severe Mercy. It is about two people who fall in love and develop this deeply intimate but idolatrous relationship, do a bunch of quite amazing, romantic things, become Christians, and then the wife slowly dies of an unknown disease. It’s a true story written by the husband. It has taught me what “one flesh” could look like. It’s also a testament to the deep grief of a man that wrestles with God looks like. I learned a lot, but I still don’t know what to do with the story.
After that Jeanne Clem died, the wife of Pastor Bill Clem of Mars Hill. It was cancer, so much different than Christian. I thought about her and about them and I prayed. I listened to her talk about death, weeks before she died. I have been fascinated by Pastor Bill’s response and I deeply respect his faith for it. I see a miracle in someone’s heart. I think seeing it is also a miracle in itself.
A few days ago I watched a movie about a woman slowly dying of cancer and how her husband and kids deal with it. There was no talk of heaven. At the end of her life the woman said “I don’t think I deserve this. I haven’t been that bad.” Then she died in a coma. How hopeless. I thought about the Clems a lot as I watched. I know that it is different for them, that even though they are grieving, they have hope. I also greatly rejoiced when I thought about how Pastor Bill prayed to Jesus that when his wife died she would be coherent and with her family and Jesus totally answered that prayer. I am reminded that loving Jesus makes such a huge difference in the midst of suffering.
In the soil of a season of death, hope has grown. It feels like a little sprout, but it is there. And, suprisingly I realized somewhere in the middle of it all that it is centered around a fundamental question I have unconsciously been asking: “God, are you good?” But that’s it, that’s what has been in the midst of all these thoughts about hope and death. I imagine I will wrestle with it for a long time, maybe a lifetime. I don’t think true belief in the affirmative will just strike me like lightning one day. I think it will slowly develop through seasons like this one.
Here are some ways that it has:
- I’m thinking about Christian in heaven talking to C.S. Lewis, so that must count for something, for I am actually picturing the place. In my mind, it is very joyful. Sometimes I get this sense of really wishing I was there.
- I have thought about time and what it means to wait for heaven, to see God and to see people we love. This has been primarily when I think about Liz. Even though it seems like forever to us, when we’re in eternity and we look back, how long will it actually have been?
- I asked Jason what he is going to do when he gets to heaven. He said “Give you a big kiss and then take a nap.” I found that to be somewhat amusing.
- I am learning how to rejoice when I feel anxious about death. God is indeed killing that fear in me.
- It really is possible to weep and then find that God follows it with some laughter, not replacing the sadness, but coming alongside it. I saw this the weekend we went to Christian’s memorial service.
- From Pastor Bill and Jeanne I have gotten a glimpse of the truth that God is with His children when they butt up against and go right through death to be with Jesus.
- I’m actually breathing. In and out. When I think about it, it seems like quite the miracle.
- Sometimes, in moments of clarity, I realize that I really do deserve death. And hell beyond that. Forever is a long time to be miserable or to be happy. Jesus is my only lawyer and a great witness when put in front of a God who has every good reason for His wrath. So I plead Him.
“I am going, you see, to the Mountain. You remember how we used to look and long? And all the stories of my gold and amber house, up there against the sky, where we thought we should never really go? The greatest King of all was going to build it for me. If only you could believe it, Sister! No, listen. Do not let grief shut up your ears and harden your heart–” –Psyche in Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis, p75
“Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of
bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa 126:5-6)