I’ve watched a couple of WWII documentaries lately. This is odd, because until now I have had zero interest in military history. Maybe it’s my newfound appreciation of the Christian life as battle or maybe it’s finally appreciating recent history, or maybe it’s the fact that my grandfather fought in the Pacific Theater. I’m not sure, but I’m fascinated.
I recently listened to a D-day veteran describe how he got through each day. “You just assumed you were going to die that day,” he said. “Then, when you got to the evening, you thanked God you were still alive. You went to sleep and awoke the next day, expecting to die.”
I feel like I should stop this post right there. Nothing I write will add to the profundity of that statement. Go ahead, read it again.
I know someone else who talked about dying. About considering one’s life as rubbish. Of being dead already. The Christian life is dying, a preparation for death, in every possible meaning of the phrase. And a preparation for resurrection, which can only come after we die.
Robert Farrar Capon is one of my favorite modern theologians. He talks about this often, how the only thing God requires of us is the one thing we cannot avoid doing: dying. Lewis says something similar:
“A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.”
I think of what it meant to Jesus’ listeners, His astounding command to take up one’s cross and follow Him. Of how there is no way to hide from the reality of impending death when you’re lugging a cross behind you. The constant reminder is there: You are about to die.
I like to pretend this is not the case. I believe the ads that tell me perpetual youth is, in fact, within my reach. I am appalled when I hear of someone “dying too soon,” as though it’s somehow easier to face it at eighty. I sometimes live as though there are endless tomorrows, that I can fritter away the priceless moments, because there’s a glut of years ahead of me. Living as though I am guaranteed tomorrow is the worst kind of frivolity.
It’s part of the reason I so desperately hunt for security, why I want to minimize risk, and search for peace to replace fear. I want to save my life. I think of the soldier’s words, and I know I would have run away. I would have fled the battle, shipped back home, and shut my eyes tight to the carnage of war. I feel the same compulsions right now. I want to avoid the struggle, hide away in my own fantasies of what life should be like, and shut my eyes tight to the carnage of war around me.
The thing is, doing that doesn’t save my life. It robs me of it.
All we have is today. This moment. Right now. The neighbor God has given you. The friend. The child. The coworker. The stranger I stand in line with in the coffee shop. What would it mean for me look up and out from my own fears and really see them? What does it look like to resist the frantic, bent anxiety-reducing impulses and follow Jesus who teaches me that abundant life is a byproduct of loving God and loving others? What if I put aside my fears, held loosely to my plans, looked outside of myself to the person in front of me, the eternal being who holds the seed of God’s image? What if I stopped worrying about self-preservation?
I think it looks like this: You just assume you are going to die today. Then, when you get to the evening, you thank God you are still alive. You go to sleep and wake the next day, expecting to die.