Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Redeeming Death, part 1

This weekend, I received a text from a beloved student reaching out to me. Her beloved passed away unexpectedly and she didn't know what to do. The next day she asked me if I'd ever wished that I had died with Dan.

I didn't.

Truthfully, I didn't wish for death because I was afraid of it. I have never wanted death - only life.
I started reading my journal from 2016, and in January/February 2016 - there it is. I state very plainly that I am afraid of death. At the point, even 6 months of living with Dan's cancer diagnosis, I was still even afraid of suffering.

And, honestly, I was afraid of love, too - because I was afraid of getting too close to God. I was afraid of letting him into my life more because I thought he might take what I love most.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear - because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Back in January/February 2016, God started to address my fear - first through my understanding...and now, through my heart. What I first understood using logic, my heart eventually has come to embrace as truth.

My journal excerpt from January 16, 2016:

On Sunday, Father Mark said, "When Jesus hit the waters for baptism, they became holy. So, then, when we are baptized, we can enter into this holiness, this transformation." When Jesus takes on a human experience, he transforms it. In this transformation, it becomes holy/sacred, and a path toward our sanctification/becoming holy.
 As I think of Jesus' suffering, I realize now that this act transformed the meaning and purpose of our suffering. Suffering is NOT punishment. For those sufferings of this life that we encounter (not as a consequence of sin), they can be a mode for our transformation. This suffering - it's a way that as we realize our smallness, our inability to save ourselves that we reach toward God - and find that he's been reaching toward us this whole time.
So, if Jesus made the waters holy when he entered them, then he made suffering holy when he endured them. No, suffering is a path for us to walk toward Jesus; it is not a sign of separation. It is a path for us to walk with Jesus, and a path we walk for him, as well - carrying the hope of his presence to those who may be enduring such pain without Him. 
And if Jesus made suffering holy, we need not fear it - for the worst that could come is death. And if Jesus entering into something sanctifies it, then through the cross, Jesus took away the reproach of death. Even death is holy because through it, we enter into Jesus' presence. All the Sacraments and suffering we endure here are designed for one thing: experiencing the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. 
Death is the final door through which we pass to experience His presence in its complete, perpetual fullness. 
So, let us ask ourselves this serious question: Am I encountering the presence of God more in my life - in my joys and sorrows, in practicing the Sacraments?  
This is what God wants for you.

In the first half of 2016, I began to encounter the presence of God more in the reception of and living out of the Sacraments. I practiced the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a more consistent basis as I began to embrace the truth that I am a sinner in need of saving - and my acceptance of my humanity and need for repentance, forgiveness and grace, led me to a closer walk with Jesus.

This was the beginning of reframing the purpose of suffering, and even, death for me. But, until Dan experienced death, this was still just "head knowledge." Most of us don't know what to do with death. We know it exists; we even know it will happen to us...but, we don't live like it. We can assent to the truth of the above statements, but until we experience it - it remains in our heads, our hearts awaiting full conversion.