Death Unto Life…or Life Unto Death

Trust is purified in the crucible of trial.  From the depths of a purified heart, trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to form Christ within us.  Unwavering confidence in  the love of God inspires trust to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the arthritis that is so painful…[for decisions that feel impossible to make]…

~ Brennan Manning, Reflections for Ragamuffins

And so she lived through the surgery, my mom, that is – hallucinating many days away about my dad and her sister and brother-in-law, all deceased.  After 2 weeks of hospitalization, she nearly boomeranged back into the hospital within 3 days with another infection, for 5 more days.  She has a lucid day or two – as lucid as her dementia allows, which means my dad continues to revisit and she continually forgets where she lives or that she is no longer allowed to drive.  In fact, she sees a ‘smart’ car and an apartment in her immediate future…and she tells me that dad wants a lap dog.

The life she is living is a type of death – death to independence, death to her own decision-making, death to the food she loves, death to autonomy, death to health, death to friends. During the last hospitalization, on a day when her thinking was less cloudy, mom told me that she is tired, tired of going to the hospital, tired of being ‘poked and prodded and bothered,’ just tired…and she  doesn’t want to go back to the hospital, anymore.  We discussed what that meant, because she is bound to get more infections since her immune system seems to be shot.  She reminded me that whether she dies or not is in God’s hands, (her  emphasis).  I agreed; there is NO arguing with Betty when she has made a decision, believe me!  Just ask the nurses who have attempted to take care of her, (she refused a CT scan one day last week after my brother had left the hospital and before my husband arrived!)  It’s one small area where she can maintain a measure of control.

On another recent, more alert day, with my husband present, I approached the hospital topic, again,  and received the same edict: NO MORE HOSPITALS.

My dad gave the same instruction near the end of his life; he, too, had grown weary of the broken down tent in which he was living, ravaged by cancer, radiation, chemotherapy. He began craving his true home and longed to leave this earthly death for the Life that was awaiting him…

For I am hard-pressed between the two having a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:23-24

Yes, despite his apparent calling, even Paul yearned to be with Christ, never as an escape route, but out of deep love and desire for union.

Older or terminally people often have that longing, too, longing to leave these earthen vessels  behind and to join our Father…it’s normal to want to be with the One we love and cherish, especially after an interminable separation.

But Paul also said:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and  not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So then death is working in us, but life in you.  (I Corinthians 4:7-12)

Concerning this, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. (The Cost of Discipleship, 99)  

Daily, death is working in us.  Through the trials, (name yours), through the darkness, times of feeling perplexed, hard-pressed on every, single side – realize anew that we are dying, so that the life of Jesus may be obvious in us.  Dying is painful…and it’s never easy…we seldom ask for it, but this dying forms Christ in us –

And then brings Life.

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