Meditating on My Mortality
by Jonathan Haefs
Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death. – Jonathan Edwards
Do you ever think about dying? On the whole scale, I think our culture tends to ignore death as much as possible.
We idolize youth and do all we can to maintain looking young! We dye our hair, change our clothes, and even have surgical procedures to disguise the onsetting displays of our mortality.
Why do we do this? Or…an even deeper question…what does living like this do to us?
I firmly believe that if we live in denial of death, we will not truly be living at all.
I think that is what Jonathan Edwards was getting at in his resolution to meditate on his own mortality. It wasn’t that Edwards was absurdly morbid or wanted to be depressed all the time…no…quite the opposite! He wanted to live fully, and he believed this could only be done (and would only be done) if one were constantly aware of the fact that their life could end at any moment!
Edwards wanted to ingrain into his everyday thinking the commonality of death and that his own would come in a common, most likely, unannounced way. And, he was not the only person to think in this manner. Many pastors and theologians of old would keep a skull on their desk to daily remind themselves of their inevitable end. In some way, they apparently found this to be both a helpful and wise practice.
This seems so strange to us, but in my own experience I have found this to be extremely freeing and powerful, which is what I think Edwards intended.
I actually talk about my own death often with my wife, Holly, and early on in our relationship she found it to be quite disturbing…but over the years I think she has grown more accustomed to my meditations on mortality and seen what I mean when I say that God uses such reflections to fill my heart with freedom and power.
I feel freed from false priorities. There are so many things that seem so important until you focus on the reality of death. This has a way of rearranging and reorganizing your priorities and it nearly kills your pettiness altogether.
I feel freed from anxiety. There are so many things that I worry about which have no eternal significance. Meditating on my mortality helps me to keep these things in perspective and approach accomplishing them out of a sense of freedom…not fear.
I feel freed from self-importance. It is so easy to have an inflated view of myself. Instead of seeing that I am a part of God’s grand story, I tend to see him as a part of mine. Death has a way of crushing such a perspective. When I think of “great people” in Scripture and how commonly their deaths are reported…it is really humbling. Great people, used in great ways…and in a verse they are gone and the story goes on, because the story is ultimately not about them, but about God! Thinking about my death helps me keep that perspective…it helps me have a right view of God and of myself.
I feel empowered to live. I don’t live each day in a hazy false reality of supposed immortality. No. I live each moment to it’s fullest knowing that it could be my last (or at least this is my goal). Such a perspective does not negate living responsibly and wisely. However, it does free us from many false notions of responsibility and wisdom that are really nothing more than fear. To think often about my death doesn’t depress me, it empowers me to live life fully while I still live.
I feel empowered to love. Each moment I have with people is a precious gift from God and I want to love deeply. Mortality has a way of minimizing the things my kids do to annoy me…it has a way of making my arguments with my bride seem so trivial…and in place of my pettiness, meditating on death has a way of awakening new depths of love within my heart for these amazing people that I did not even know possible. Thinking about the brevity of life helps me to get over silly little things that so often steal time and energy from my relationships. It empowers me to love.
I feel empowered to laugh at death. If you are still thinking this all sounds way too morbid…consider this with me for just a moment. The real reason reflecting on death is a positive experience for me is because it has been conquered by Christ. Death is not natural! There is a reason we don’t like it and don’t like to think about it…we were not created for it! We were created for eternal-joy-filled living in relationship with God. Death is an unnatural interruption. Yet, Christ has conquered death…it has no victory for the Christian. So I can laugh at death, because it cannot even do to me what it is designed to do! Death is supposed to end life, but for the Christian…death transfers us from life to life. We move into the presence of God…into eternal life. Death cannot even deliver death anymore! The joke is on death and we get the last laugh! Therefore, meditating on my mortality helps me to live life to the fullest now, knowing that true life can never be taken from me!
So I am resolved to mediate on my mortality…for only in light of the fact of death can I truly, fully live.