Friday, May 13, 2011

If I Should Die Before I Wake

“It has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1 Timothy 1:10, NIV).

If I should die before I wake…

by Steven Clark Goad

          Why are some of us afraid of the inevitable? I remember growing up as a kid saying my bedtime prayers. Is it cruel and unusual child abuse to teach a lad to think of dying just before bedtime? I had never thought of it like that until I reached adulthood. I wanted God to take my soul if I died in my sleep. I hadn’t even been baptized yet. I was five. I was eight. Then ten. “Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Even after baptism I fretted and worried about dying in my sleep and maybe God not willing to “take my soul.”
          My wife has a Woody Allen view of death and dying. She can readily say, “I’m not really afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” She thinks dying while in surgery under anesthesia would be one of the best ways to cross over. I suppose that would be one way of not being there when it happens. She, and I, are not so much afraid of dying as of the process it often requires. Biopsies. Invasive surgeries. X-rays. Stiff joints and unremitting pain. Growing old isn’t for sissies. And growing feeble and in constant discomfort and with loss of memory only adds to the disquietude of it all.

Five Stages

          Whether or not one has read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ classic On Death and Dying, the stages leading finally to acceptance of imminent mortality seem to invade the mind of the dying. The first stage is denial. It is the notion that it can’t be happening to me. Or, that since I don’t feel badly, there must be a mistake in diagnosis. The next stage is anger. Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? The third stage is bargaining. If I can only live to see my grandchildren. Let me live until the house is paid off. The next phase is depression that leaves one with the feeling of helplessness. Why bother. I’ll be dead soon anyway.
            Finally, the terminally ill will accept the inevitable and perhaps even find some satisfying level of peace that says death is just part of the cycle of life. God is in charge and everything will be okay in the long run. This may be the healthiest stage of dealing with terminal illness. It is a coming to terms with something that can’t be avoided.


          We live in a world of varying transitions. Death happens to be one of them. One of the most difficult periods in life is when a job change is made—or moving from one location to another, sometimes across the country, leaving family and friends geographically. Birth is also one of those traumatic crossings.
            If a baby in his mother’s womb could talk, he might say, “This is great. I love the warmth and protection of this hidden place where I live. I don’t think life could get any better.” But when the time arrives he is subjected to another existential mode of being that is frightening. Blinding light is forced upon him. The chill of being naked and wet outside the womb. It’s frightening crossing over like that. All one can do is weep. But eventually, nestled in his mother’s arms and feeding from her breast, an entirely new way of living is not only accepted, but embraced.

The Believer’s Hope

          One of the grandest truths from God’s word is that Christians never see each other for the last time. Our angst and sadness at the loss of a loved one is balanced by the knowledge that there is life after death. The resurrection of Christ is testimony to deity’s power over death. When we mortals put on immortality there remains no longer the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15). We die only to be given new bodies and new perspectives, plus the glory of the Lord’s presence.         
Every one of us is just a heartbeat away from stepping into a room full of angels. The very idea of it ought to make us smile. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us and then return again to receive us that where he is there we may also reside. The Lord keeps his promises. We need not fear death or when it arrives. Whether we live beyond our threescore and ten, or die in our youth, eternity will grip us and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

          Most seem to think it morbid to speak of our temporariness. We are, after all, and in spite of bad theology that says otherwise, mortals (1 Corinthians 15:53). Paul wrote to Timothy that only God is immortal. We have the hope of the resurrection and all the promises that go with it. A new way of living. New bodies. No pain. No heartbreaks. No more dying. Eons of foreverness in close proximity to the River of Life.
          Just trying to imagine the new heaven and new earth in my mind brings joy to my heart. I think of walking with my guardian angel and maybe even asking him where he was that day I almost drowned. Or strolling among the celestial flora and fauna with Moses or Paul or mother. As the song suggests, this world is truly not my home; I’m just passing through. A temporary sojourner am I on this lovely round blue marble spinning through space.

Growing Old Gracefully

          One couple I know [is anyone looking this way?] has been acquainted with many physicians in their area. With Parkinsons, diabetes, acid reflux, diverticulitis, cancer, arthritis, tinnitus, and a few other maladies, this couple is dealing with the rigors of growing older. I have a theory about old age. I believe our aches and pains remind us to get ready for the crossing over. One elder I sat with at his dying bedside told me he was so eager to make the journey to the other side that he was hoping for release that very night I was with him.
          Losing my mother at the age of 43 [I was 16] played havoc for a while with my sense of security. It upset my apple cart. I had a lover’s quarrel with my heavenly Father for a while after that. She didn’t have the privilege of growing older gracefully. Cancer took her before she could see her grandchildren. It didn’t seem right. It surely wasn’t fair. But looking back on it now I see that mother was relieved of the burdens of this life early on. Do only the good die young? I really don’t know. It’s doubtful.

Let Them Go

          My wife was the doting mother. She was hands-on in every way with our daughter. Did she spoil her darling girl? She denies it. She says, “Caitlin wasn’t spoiled; she was privileged.” No way will I argue the point. But as the perfect little darling matured and got into her teen years, guess what happened? Yes. There was a time when it was acceptable for her to leave home. College. Marriage. The only weeping involved tears of joy. How can a clinging mother let a child she would have died for move away from home? It was time.
          Not only do we let them go [friends, children, careers, homes, hobbies, life], but we learn along the pathway of living to let go ourselves. It’s okay. Letting go is part of embracing the gifts of God. As the baby discovered an entirely new perspective on life outside his mother’s womb, so we will regal in the joy of eternal bliss in a life with the Lord that was meant to be from the very beginning.

Don’t Be Afraid

          I admit it. For much of my adult life I was fearful of death. It may have been more the fear of the unknown than the fear of dying itself. But one thing I know now—God is true to his word. In my Father’s house are many rooms. And one of those rooms must have my name on the door. I look forward my homecoming. I have great expectations. Eternity is just ahead. Hallelujah anyway!

A Death of Ones Own, Gertha Lerner, Harper Collins, 1996
Beyond Endurance: When A Child Dies, Ronald Knapp, Schocken, 1986
On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross,  Macmillan, 1991
The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker, Free Press, 1997
Healing Into Life and Death, Stephen Levine, Anchor Books, 1987
How We Die, Sherwin Nuland, Knopf, 1994
Letting Go, Morrie Schwartz, Dell, 1997
The Psychology of Death, Robert Kastenbaum, Springer, 2000


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