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Mourning Little Deaths

In my life, in my thirty one years, I’ve seen a lot of change.  Perhaps not as much as someone who lived thirty years before me, but enough all the same.

I’m not just talking about changes in technology and society, either.  God knows there have been many of those—the changes to computers alone in my lifetime have been drastic and unpredictable.  There have been changes in music and literature, in movies and politics, in marriages and religion.  Pondering those changes would keep a room full of sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists and theologians occupied for years.

But I have my own changes to think of, as well.  And as my own life isn’t likely to be studied by anyone other than myself, I must do the job.  As my birthday draws close, it makes me introspective again.  How have I changed in the last thirty years?  What makes me different from the person I was as a child or as a teenager?  How am I different even from four years ago?

As I said, I’ve seen a lot of change.  I’ve lived a lot of places.  I was recently filling out an application for missions in Ireland, and several questions caused me to reflect on the many varied experiences I’ve had.  Sometimes I need to stop and put things in perspective and remind myself that the life I’ve lived isn’t what most people would consider “normal.’ I’ve wrestled with that for years—what is normal, anyway?  Is it good to be normal, or is it bad?  I have to remind myself that experience alone does not make me a more developed or enlightened person.  We all have a slightly different path to walk, but it is what we learn from the journey that is important.

I’ve always been a rather sensitive soul; adaptable, yes, by necessity, but also very aware of change.  I’ve developed an awareness of similarities and differences—of patterns and themes.  This is part of what draws me to Story.  As I look at my own story like a tapestry, I see many colors: each shift to a new hue representing a time of transition in reality.  A new house.  A new town.  A new state.

I’ve seen a lot of change.  Every change, in a way, is like death.  Like a small dying of something that used to be and is no longer—at least, not for me.  The house may still stand, the town exists, but I am no longer there.  And even when I go back to visit, it will be different.  Time alone will have caused decay; often other forces have been at work as well.

And change happens in people, too.  I’ve had to leave behind a lot of friends in my life.  When the time for parting comes, assurances are made: I will keep in touch, we will still be friends.  I will see you again.  But often communication is infrequent, and in everyone I’ve left, even the ones I do remain closest to, change occurs.  People I knew as children grow up.  They graduate high school and college; they get married.  They have children of their own.  I see it all as snippets from the outside, watching and feeling frozen, though time affects me, too.

Every change, every goodbye is like a little death.  I don’t think I ever realized it before.  I never allowed myself to properly mourn all the tiny deaths I’ve experienced in life.  I haven’t lost a lot of people close to me to the grave, so I thought somehow I was exempt from mourning.  But I am not.  These days, whenever I read or hear or see a breaking of a fellowship, I find myself grieving.  It may be nothing more than a television show where the characters must part for a time.  It may be a song about friendship or goodbyes.  My eyes fill with tears, and I find myself mourning all the friends I’ve had to say goodbye to.  And I’ve had to say goodbye a lot.  Sometimes it has been much harder than others, and I think it was because I knew deep down that it was a death, it was the end of something which would never be again. At least, not until the end, the day when God restores everything.

Change in life is as inevitable as death.  You cannot escape it.  Time alone changes us, entropy breaks us down little by little.  You cannot stop it; the sands of the hourglass will slip through your fingers even as you clench your fist.

If that sounds discouraging, perhaps it is because I am grieving a little today, mourning for the many changes in my life.  All those little deaths which I foolishly overlooked.  The breaking of many fellowships. 

There is, of course, another side to all this.  Without change, without death, there cannot be new life.  Growth.  Change may mean the death of one thing, yes, but the thing that replaces it may be stronger and better.  Or, just entirely different.

The end of one thing means the beginning of another.  This does not negate our mourning, but gives us hope when the tears have dried.  Speaking of his own death, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)  Jesus, better than anyone, knew that change was inevitable.  He knew he would have to leave his earthly life and all of his very good friends.  He knew intense suffering was hours away.  But he also knew that something more glorious awaited him on the other side of it.  He knew one day there would be a reunion with his dear friends and disciples.

In the same way, we can have hope that the beautiful things of this world will one day be renewed and restored, on the day when God remakes the heavens and the earth.  And we, too, will be remade.  Paul talked about this in his letter to the Corinthians:

35-38Some skeptic is sure to ask, "Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this 'resurrection body' look like?" If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a "dead" seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don't look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.
 42-44This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we're raised, we're raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that's planted is no beauty, but when it's raised, it's glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-49, The Message)

It is right and natural for us to mourn the little deaths and changes that alter our lives.  But we must remember that death is not the end.  Life wins; Life triumphs over death.
I just finished reading a nonfiction book by Madeleine L’Engle called “The Rock that is higher: Story as Truth” and the last chapter was all about resurrection.  Mrs. L’Engle was writing in the later years of her life, looking back on everything, including an automobile accident which battered her body.  Toward the end of the book, she recounts a story she heard about the people of Russia, back when it was the USSR, an atheistic nation:

“The people of Moscow were called to a gathering in Red Square.  There they were addressed by one of the new leaders, who spent well over half an hour proving to the populace that there is no God.  His factual arguments about the nonexistence of God were incontrovertible, and the mob of people standing in Red Square was silent and subdued.
“Then a priest who was standing with the people asked permission to say three words.  Permission was granted, and he stood in front of the packed square, raised his arms, and cried out:
                ‘CHRIST IS RISEN!’
“And the entire mob responded joyfully, ‘He is risen indeed!’”

The truth of that resurrection is one that sustains us through all of life‘s changes and little deaths.  It means death is not the end.  Change, entropy, evolution—they don’t get to be the final words in the course of our lives.

All of our little reunions here in this life, so fleeting and bittersweet, are just a preview of what it will be like when everything is restored.  And I need this hope.  I need it because sometimes it feels like change is permanent.  Like goodbyes are forever.  Like death is the end.  It is not true, no matter how I feel.

And I press on, not wanting to get lost in the “new” nor stuck in the “old.”  I may mourn, but underneath my mourning is hope:

 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"  (Revelation 21: 1, 3-5)

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Anonymous said...

This really touched me. Thank you.

J. M. Richards said...

I'm glad--thanks for letting me know.

Psalm 126: 5 "Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy."

This was sown with tears, and if it touched someone, that brings me joy.
Love you.

Wendy McConnell said...

Thanks for this, Jess. It comes at a good time for me.

J. M. Richards said...

Wendy: I'm glad. Thanks for reading. Miss you, Friend.

TR said...

Well said. I've got a feeling that there will be many more "little deaths" to mourn as the future unfolds.