The Blessings of Death
“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
It is April 9, 2019. Kathleen and I find ourselves crossing the threshold of the Daesung Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA, where many fellow mourners have gathered for the funeral of Nam Kyoung-Ah, who succumbed at age 47 to the ravages of cancer. Through her volunteer work with the American Cancer Society, Kathleen had met Kyoung-Ah, developing a bond that shortly thereafter included myself. Kyoung-Ah, from Korea, earned a PhD in a foreign language, then worked as a university professor. As a teacher, she can use her passing to inform our own lives, thus helping us live more fully.
When we sing, “Count Your Many Blessings,” we rarely include death in our thoughts.
Because most of us are not comfortable with the inevitability of death. We try to delay it or deny it by use of diets, exercise, and buckets of Oil of Olay. Sometimes, plastic surgery is employed. Others fight against the dreaded image in the mirror by pretending they are still youthful and acting in a manner that, in time, becomes increasingly embarrassing. Some even look for a “cure” for death by genetically altering cells to be immortal or have themselves cryogenically suspended until such a time as “medical science” can cure them.
The predominant view of death is that it is a medical event and that the most we can hope for is to make the best of a bad situation. But suppose we lived a life that turned toward what death had to teach, rather than trying (like Jonah) to run from the inevitable? Such knowledge blesses our lives; we can live more fully when we get comfortable sitting with death.
Blessing 1: GOD is in control of our lives.
As much as WE want to be in charge, we need to let go. Obsessing about ways to extend our lives is not God’s Will for us. Counting glasses of water and the number of steps we take MIGHT be helpful for the quality of our lives. But if we do it because we worry about dying too soon, then let’s see what wise Jesus has to say: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27).
Of course not. So, let it go and live more fully for God.
Blessing 2: We are not ENTITLED to a long life.
As Scripture tells us, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:14-15).
Blessing 3: We should NOT put our lives on hold, waiting for that “perfect” moment.
Just do it – now.
Blessing 4: Despite our great faith in medical science, disease is not always curable.
Again, who is in charge? Neither Western medical science nor Eastern Chinese medicine is in charge. God is.
Blessing 5: Take what the “authorities” tell us with a grain of salt and inquire of the Lord for guidance.
King David was surrounded by learned men, the authorities of his day, who gave their advice, but he also inquired of the Lord at least nine times, praying for guidance. (See: 1 Samuel 23:1-3, 1 Samuel 23:4-5, 1 Samuel 23:10-11, 1 Samuel 23:12-14, 1 Samuel 30:8-9, 2 Samuel 2:1-2, 2 Samuel 5:17-21, 2 Samuel 5:22-25, 2 Samuel 21:1)
David was always intent to know God’s will. Of him God said, “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13: 22b).
We can use David’s example to help make the many difficult decisions at the end of our lives, cultivating the habit of inquiring of the Lord and waiting for His answer.
It is written: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).
Blessing 6: Examine our lives.
Discover what is important to God (and thus to us), and then GROW in those directions WHILE WE CAN. And those important possessions, which helped form our self-esteem, will not necessarily be valued by our heirs.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
Blessing 7: As wise people wait in Heaven’s anteroom, they learn to graciously cede power and accept help.
Blessing 8: We can learn to die with dignity, so when it is our time, we can trust in Him as He reaches out to draw us to His bosom.
And what a wonderful blessing it is to realize that our TRUE treasures here in this life are not silver and gold, wealth and status, power and position, but rather loving relationships, with God and with those who have become our family. At the bottom of the human heart is the place where such loving relationships flourish. They are the foundation of joy in this life.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Dedicated to Kyoung-Ah (July 1, 1971 – March 23, 2019): Daughter, niece, friend, teacher, global visionary….