I'm not afraid of death and dying. That's where we started on Monday, and yesterday, we took a little detour into the language of emotions, specifically as that language revolves around 'fear.' 'Fear' is an extremely overused word in our society, one that carries heavy connotations with it, and if we would understand more often that what we're feeling is not actually fear, we'd be better equipped to deal with our world and our experience in it.
So if it's not fear that I feel around death and dying, what is it?
When it comes to death itself (the moment of the loss of life), what I feel is actually grief. It makes me sad. It makes me hurt and ache for the life I've lived and for the ones I love who I leave behind. It makes me think about what it's going to be like for them when I'm not here any more. It makes me wonder whether they knew if I loved them, if I did enough for them, if I was kind and honest and loving toward them. I grieve that the moments I had with them were both everything and not enough and never could be enough.
I grieve that life is so fleeting, though I know that it is eternal. I grieve that we know the heartache of death at all.
Now, just imagine how approaching death as grief and not fear changes the experience of it. Instead of being traumatized by death, instead of being intimidated by it, instead of believing that it is something to be avoided or despised or whatever, grief allows me to enter into it, to embrace it, to fully experience it because I'm not in fight-or-flight mode; I'm grieving. Grief requires an embrace. You have to step into it.
When it comes to dying, I confess that my feelings are much less pure. It's still not fear; I am not afraid of losing the things that make my life meaningful for me, of losing my abilities to live and thrive. What I feel is not fear.
It's anger. It's indignation. I get mad at my failing body. I get upset that I can't do the things that I want to do. I start to feel entitled to be able to live while I'm breathing, and it feels like a tremendous offense against my being that I can't.
I know that's not the popular thing to say, probably. Some Christians would probably say that I should be thankful for more time with my family and loved ones, more opportunities to make an impact in the world, or any other number of things that there are to be thankful for while we're living. And there is some truth to that. But I don't think it's helpful when we talk about ourselves as emotional beings to deny the difficult ones. Psalms assures us that we don't have to. And the point of this post is not to tell you what you should feel in times like these - every human experience is unique; the point of this post is to help you start thinking outside of the 'fear' box because not every negative thing we feel is 'fear.' And we can't properly deal with what we're dealing with if we're not honest about what we're feeling.
So what I feel is anger and indignation. Eventually, I tend to settle out into a measure of gratefulness when I come to recognize the opportunities God is giving me to experience some things I might not otherwise have known.
For example, I'm currently in a season that forces me to think about death and dying. And at first, I was indignant about having to reorder my life around my current circumstances. But as I began to - somewhat begrudgingly - do it, I began to laugh at myself for being so attached to, and attempting to anchor my identity in, some things that weren't as important as I really thought they were. Then, I was able to start humbling myself and settling back into the rhythm that God has for me. Now, I'm thankful for the lessons I'm learning in peace and rest. It's been, and continues to be, this incredibly dynamic, full experience of life itself, and I wouldn't have any of it if I was simply 'afraid' of dying. Fear would make me run away or cling desperately to things. All of these other emotions, even the 'negative' ones, have enabled me to take hold of this season and actually live it.
That's why it's so important for us to know what we're actually feeling and not just settle for easy words. Overwhelmingly, the things that we call fear are not fear at all, and all we're doing is keeping ourselves from actually living our lives because we're too busy running from them, thinking that we're afraid. If we realize that what we're feeling isn't really fear, it allows us to engage deeply and in new ways and get the most - and the most holy - out of our experience of living, and it draws us closer to God. Fear never does that.
So what are you not actually afraid of?
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