I’ve been sick, the kind that lingers and begins to make you wonder if you will ever feel good again, or if instead something ghastly has hold of you. Nothing does, says the doctor, just a combination of fatigue and virus and various peripheral complications. I hate the feeling of physical weakness; it puts me out of sorts. I suspect I will be quite graceless at dying.
I was afraid because the weakness wouldn’t leave me. I imagined I had some disease of the heart or blood, and that soon I would be the subject of hallway whispers and conversations between doctors quite unable to help but constitutionally incapable of admitting it.
I used to be afraid of death. Every visit to the doctor was tinged with fear that he would find another lump in my throat that didn?t belong, only a lump unlike the first one, a lump not so easy to cut out. Every clean evaluation was like a reprieve.
When we lost Caroline I began to look forward to death. Then we had a baby, and another, and another. I guess ancient fears have ways of re-attaching themselves. Now I don’t fear my death for me, but for the family I would leave behind.
It’s funny — a family has a way of forcing spiritual maturity on those capable of such a transformation, and this maturity is a precursor to courage, and yet family can make such cowards out of us. Missionary trip — are you crazy? I have children to look after. Go deep-sea diving? You must be out of your mind. Go pester one of those ubiquitous, shiftless, childless college grads for a partner. I have a family to protect.
No wonder so many men are increasingly comfortable with sending young girls to do our fighting for us — all of us with families are too fearful of What Might Happen.
If you believe that death is the absolute end of you, then you do well to fear it — more so than you will realize until that day. But many of us proclaim something very different, and yet look at how we arrange our lives. Nearly every waking thought is bent on either eliminating risk or cultivating distractions from it. We who believe in a Creator profess a dependence on Him, but we don’t behave as if it’s true.
Or maybe it’s closer to the truth to say that we know it’s true, and we hate it.
I remember sitting in a jet sent by my former employer to fetch us back from the clutches of Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Our last real hope, they almost killed Caroline before telling us what they knew before we arrived, which was that she was going to die. Our pastor had flown up so that he could fly back with us, and I remember telling him that every hope had been removed one by one, so that now we sat in the palm of God.
“There?s no better place to be,” he said. I knew I was supposed to believe it, but I didn’t.
When we have no other hope, we face the possibility that His plan won’t be ours. Sometimes He lets worldly dreams go unrealized, and tragedies happen, and illnesses rage. To trust Him is to abandon your plans.
This is a hard thing to do. It is doubly hard when you have been wounded, and you know that He could have stopped the wounding.
I think of my children, and how they trust me so completely. Sometimes that trust leads to wounds, and not all of these are for their good. Sometimes they are hurt by my stupid words or actions or inattention. And yet they trust me with abandon. With complete abandon.
“For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I’ve been thinking about that, as I reflect on how I run to Him when I am desperate, yet when I am wealthy and well I devote my time to building a kingdom where He isn’t needed. I find that I become Peter in the hours before the crucifixion, knowing Him but pretending otherwise.
So I am praying now that I will be Peter on the Sea of Tiberias. This is the chastened, broken man, the one who carries the knowledge that he abandoned his friend in his moment of greatest human need. And then Peter sees his risen Savior waiting on the shore, and rather than cling to safety this time he plunges into the sea, to be with Him all the sooner.
We leave much behind when we do such a thing, but maybe that isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s the best thing we could ever do.
I want to find out.