I have spoken a lot this past 12 months of the process of death and resurrection. Usually, what comes out in my writing is a reflection of my own journey, and this past year, 2011, has been one where this reality of this truth has been manifest in my own life.
Now you may think, entering into a new year, that death isn’t exactly the best place to start, especially after we’ve just celebrated the birth of Jesus. But paradoxically, I believe death is actually the very best place to begin if we’re to experience a year of transformation and growth.
I have experienced death – and of course grief, something I will speak of in a future post – first hand. I lost my mother when I was 23.
It wasn’t actually my first experience of grief, as I’d lost grandparents before. But it was the first time a person in my direct family or network, who I had a very close relationship to, had passed away. It wasn’t even the biggest shock. My mum had suffered from asthma for years and we had all come to accept that the asthma would eventually claim her life – but none of us had really expected it so soon.
But death is something that wakes us up to who we are – and by death I don’t merely mean facing our own, or others, or going through grief. I mean experiencing the emotion, the power and ultimately, the process, of death in our own lives.
You see death is the engine room of life.
Going through the whole process of dying, grief, surrender, facing up to losing it all, whether we do it voluntarily or whether, as in my experience with my mother, it comes upon us through circumstance, is actually a way into discovering the truth of ourselves.
The reality is that unless we enter into this process, we can’t be fully alive.
Unless we embrace the reality of our mortality, unless we are willing to enter into the process of death and resurrection from time to time in our lives, we cannot be fully alive.
Jesus understood this perfectly. This is what I think He really meant when He talked of being born again. I mean if we are to be born again, then how do we do that? In order to enter into a rebirth, we need to enter into a form of death first.
I mean, how often have you seen people who are facing up to death in one way or another, suddenly start to come alive in a new way. There are several films which embrace this concept – The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, about two men who have a fatal disease who decide they are going to make a list of things they are going to do before they die, and go do them.
The most recent film on this subject is called 50/50. It’s about a 27 year-old man, played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Lovett (fast becoming one of my favourite actors), who is diagnosed with a rare form of back cancer, and has to face up to the consequences of it – seeing a counsellor, meeting others with cancer, having chemotheraphy and ultimately facing up to the reality that he could die.
In these films the characters, when confronted with their own mortality, the reality of their own possible deaths, suddenly realise what is and isn’t important, and are able to embrace their life in a fresh, new way. The truth begins to come to light, and all the social barriers we hide behind all fall away like scales and what’s truly important becomes the only reality – and as we watch them and enter into their world and circumstances, we too begin to think about our own lives and what’s important to us, how we would deal with that situation.
As a Christian it interested me. Because I’ve always accepted that being part of a Christian is facing up to death, facing up to the reality of our earthly mortality and entering into the process of embracing that, knowing that whenever we enter into death there is resurrection on the other side, that death isn’t the end.
But it was only as I watched these films, felt the emotion of those circumstances, and again remembered my own experiences of death, that the power of this truth became real to me. I realised that the only way to be fully alive is to choose to enter into death now, and part of that is facing up to my weaknesses, allowing God to enter into those and minister to them, put them to death – knowing that on the other side there is a new beginning, there is hope, there is life. I was reminded that there’s no point waiting around for others to do things, to pursue the causes I cared about, or to wait to do the things I wanted to achieve. I needed to simply get on and live, embrace the life God has given me, however long or short that might be.
In the past year God has entered into my heart much more deeply than before, and shown me just how blessed I am. He has opened doors for me, spoken to me, brought me new friendships, relationships and opportunities. He’s made me feel uncomfortable, shown me things about myself I haven’t wanted or been able to see, and started me on the process of dealing them.
He’s helped me be more honest with myself and Him.
At the same time I’ve been so blessed and God has been working on me, I’ve seen at first hand a lot of people I care about go through unbelievable pain and suffering, some of which I’ve never had to experience. I have lost a dear friend who was a dear friend to many others I know too and seen people go through struggles I couldn’t begin to appreciate or understand. At my local foodbank I have met homeless people from my area who not only had no food, but nothing to eat it with.
These sort of things wake you up to what you have. To how blessed you are. To the life that you have.
They have pushed me towards embracing a process of death and resurrection in my own life, and making the most of the time and opportunities I have.
The truth is, I don’t know exactly what lies ahead. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t predict the future. Not for myself, nor for you.
But I have ideas – for future projects, blog posts, books and other things. I’ve been doing what I can to plan for the coming year, to prepare myself as best I can for the next stage of the journey God has me on. Part of this has meant volunteering for some concentrated prayer time for the issues that I am facing and taken important decisions about them.
I actually feel more alive for having entered into this process of death and resurrection, for having faced up to the reality of my mortality. Entering into a process of being honest with myself and God about who I am, being taken out of my comfort zone and examining myself before God has somehow brought meaning and purpose to my life, and fresh energy and motivation for the coming season.
It hasn’t always been easy and by no means pain-free – death can’t be.
It hasn’t been pleasant hearing uncomfortable truths about myself, and I am certain there is more of that to come – not just in the near future but throughout the rest of my life. However, I have known all along that it is a positive, healthy process which God is using for my own good and the good of others.
Having gone through a death, resurrection is becoming a reality. I feel alive in a fresh, new way. Life suddenly has purpose, a focus, a drive. I have a sense of calling, a direction. For the first time, I have no concern over whether I’m single or in a relationship – either way, my life is feeling more complete.
I am certain a relationship won’t complete me or make me whole or solve all my problems or even make me more alive. I don’t need it for that, that should never be it’s purpose.
A relationship right now would actually involve more sacrifice, it would be more difficult decision to make now – frankly, I can live without it.
One thing I can’t live without though, is God.
God makes sense of it all. It’s God who, like a pair of glasses, brings everything into focus. Makes all things clear.
The point is though, that I wouldn’t be feeling this alive unless I had allowed myself to embrace death first.
C.S. Lewis said, “pain is God’s megaphone, to rouse a deaf world”. Facing up to death, allowing myself to go through a process of death and ultimately resurrection, has brought these words to life in a new, authentic way.
Submitting ourselves to death, you see, is the only way we can experience resurrection. You cannot experience new life unless you allow another to pass away, to die first. It’s simply not possible – and that process isn’t pain-free, as I have experienced.
But it is productive and tremendously life giving.
Coming through death has brought me into resurrection, and now, as I end one season of my life and move into another, I do so with real joy. The new season I am now embarking on is one of resurrection, and I’m just beginning to discover what this is like.
It’s not emotional happiness, but joy. Joy which can only come through having gone through the darkness, the pain, the suffering, the uncomfortableness, the grief, and being brought out the other side by the most important person to me.
The person who has always been faithful, true and honest. The one who has stuck by me through it all, even when I didn’t know they existed, even when I was angry with them and let them down. The person who has brought me through death and into resurrection, and will hopefully continue to keep bringing me continually through this process for the rest of life.
My friend, Jesus.
The truth is though, He wants all of us to embrace this. As we go into a new year, we have the chance to choose to submit ourselves afresh to this process.
It’s the only way that we can fully embrace the life God has for us, and we should have no fear of it.
Embrace it. Step out and walk in it. It will not be easy or predictable, and I can’t tell you exactly what will look like in your life – only you and God can know that – but the truth is it’s only way to be fully alive, and you have no need to fear it. Because you’re not alone.
He’s with you.
He’s been there before you – and triumphed. With Him by your side this year, so can you. That may sound idealistic, it may sound easy to say. In truth, it’s not easy to live.
But Jesus, and death and resurrection, is the only real hope we have.
Can we afford to ignore or let them go?
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