Death: A Gift?

I recently completed reading "Life of the Beloved" by Henri Nouwen for the second time.  I love Nouwen's writings because they are fresh and honest.  There is one portion of the book that caught my attention more than any other section.  I want to share a few thoughts on this part of his book today.

Nouwen says that as children of God, "we are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well."  I understand the idea of giving my life to God as a sacrifice of service, but he got my attention with the phrase "but in death as well." 

Like many, I do not actually relish the thought of dying.  I look forward to heaven and seeing Jesus face to face, but the actual thought of death is regularly pushed from my mind.  Simply put, I do not like to think about dying, or about losing the people that I love.  However, there is one fact of which we can all be sure and that is we will all die one day.  We don't know when and we don't know how but we know it will happen. 

Nouwen points out that our society goes to great lengths to avoid the topic of death. And to be honest, I did not really feel like talking about death in this blog when I have so much living to do.  But Nouwen has challenged me to look at death in a very different way.    He states that "we are called to make our death the greatest gift."  So how do we do this?  How can anyone possibly make death a gift to others?  Here are a few of my reflections wrapped up in his thinking:

  1. Live Life Well:  When someone has lived their life to the full their death can be a gift to those they leave behind.  They leave their loved ones and friends with incredible memories and with an example to follow.
  2. Live Life in Preparation for Death:  Okay I know you may think this sounds macabre.  But actually the Bible says that our lives "are a vapor, they appear for a while and then vanish."  I know I am going to die so why not prepare for my death instead of not thinking about it.  Nouwen says, "I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving."  Death is not the end...it is a glorious beginning. 
  3. Live Life to Die Well:  There is such a thing as a good death, Nouwen says.  When we fight death or fear death or resist death we do not live well.  When we view death as a final act of surrender and trust of our lives into the hands of our God our lives are lived with a different focus.

Now, please don't hear what I am not saying.  I do not want to die, and neither do I want anyone I love to die.  What I am saying is that if we live our lives abundantly and to the full, and instead of death being a horrible, empty and meaningless event, it can become a victorious (though sad at times) and meaningful occasion to those who are left behind. 

For those who have recently lost a loved one or who are walking through a trying time may my words encourage you today.  Your loved one is in a better place or is on their way to a better place.  The truth is, life is short, and the fact is that our lives can bear fruit way beyond our numbered days.  

I want to live my life well.  I want my life to count when I am gone.  I want my grandchildren to be inspired by my life and to be encouraged to live their lives for God.  How many great saints do you know who died centuries ago and yet their lives still speak powerfully today? Their death has been a gift to humanity. That is what I mean by the 'gift of death.' 

Live well my friend!  When life is over it only truly begins.

I am and always will be,

recklessly abandoned, ruthlessly committed and in relentless pursuit of Jesus,

Carol