I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.
It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.
It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.
Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020.
Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be.
The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so.
However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it.
The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God.
I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.
I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?
These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.
For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.
And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord.
We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.