Four months ago I watched my sister dance at my daughter’s wedding. I didn’t know it was the last time I would ever see her. Which of us ever does know these things?
In two days, before you read this, I will be performing her funeral. This comes in a week when I already had the gargantuan task of delivering two sermons and four seminar talks. Add this. This that no one expected and never comes at a good time, no matter what else is happening in life.
Sara Groves sang,
“Death can be so inconvenient.
You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.”
I get angry at death now, now that I’m older and realizing I may have to watch so many people I love go before me. Actually angry, like, “Hey, death, I know you don’t belong here. You are not part of the original plan. Stop coming and messing with good lives. You are not natural—you are alien. Go back where you came from.” Except I’m not quite that polite.
I feel a little like Dylan Thomas, exhorting not to go gentle into that good night. But then, I often feel like Thomas—I have rarely gone gentle into anything I didn’t want. I make it a habit to rage against the dying of any light, so this may just be my nature.
But this is what I know from growing older. There are things I raged against when I was young. Things I thought were life and death and things that seemed so vital to get right.
And now I know they were things—and that is all they ever were.
I believed I could get parenting right, and I could get writing right, and I could get pastoring right, and I could get life right.
Now I know that “good enough” is a blessedly freeing two words, and God is the only one in the business of getting it right all the time. I’m not even sure anymore what right is on some of those points.
Now I know you do not win at life. You maybe summit it, or sail it. Whatever metaphor you choose, it’s not a contract or a contest, and you don’t know where the finish line is going to be. Sometimes, you can’t even see the next ten feet.
I spent too many of those young years trying to protect what I thought was mine. Attempting to control life so that it could not hurt me or mine. Thinking that the right laws or the right people or the right verses memorized in a row would be the difference between a perfect world and a lost one.
And now I know that the world is always hovering somewhere in between, and we don’t control one millimeter of its sway.
“All we have is to decide what to do with the time we are given.” I’ve loved that quote from the moment I heard it. What time are we given? We didn’t know my sister would only be given sixty-four short years. We didn’t know my other sister would only be given nearly twenty-six. Although, in fact, she beat all prognostics to get that far.
We don’t ever know.
What I do know, because I don’t know, is that I want to get the raging right. I want to rage against the light-killers and the hope-killers and the soul-killers that rage against God’s flesh creation. I don’t want to waste my time on fights that don’t matter.
What I know now is that keeping what I erroneously think mine is not my battle. The actual war is with my own heart, convincing it to give away everything.
While I’m at it, I’ll work on giving away hope and giving away love. They’re both in shorter supply than usual. I’ll strive to give away justice and to keep humility.
I won’t go gentle into anything that sucks them away. I’m choosing my raging much more carefully now. In an oxymoronic way, it’s peaceful. It’s my best use of the time I’m give.