About a week ago I picked up a 24-hour stomach bug. I felt like I was dying. I had just finished watching a TV show where the main character’s best friend died…and her dog…in the same episode. Yikes.
So here I am, lying in bed, feeling completely miserable, and I have the unexpected thought: What if I were to die tonight? I knew I wasn’t, but the question remained. Strangely, almost impossibly, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and satisfaction.
Although there are many things I would like to yet do in my life, I have lived a rich and full life and could die without an ounce of sadness. Of course, this has no relation to the effect my death would have on others, and I’m not trivializing that. But it was the first time I had had this kind of thought, and even in the midst of the painful churning in my stomach, I felt an unexpected yet welcome contentment.
Hold that thought.
Have you noticed that Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday just happen to fall on the same day this year. Today! Cool huh? Actually it’s quite the juxtaposition: an odd intersection between a day of romance and a day of sobriety as the season of Lent commences 40 days of prayer and fasting that mirrors Jesus’ 40 days in the desert and concludes with Easter week and resurrection Sunday. I was looking for some suave segue from Valentines to Lent...and failed utterly. So while Kellie and I celebrated our 26 years of love last night, my reflections today are decidedly and delightfully dark.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. A couple Sundays ago my pastor mentioned that three or four people had died that week. Then I came across an album in yoga class called “Music to Die To.” Then I was reading something by St. Francis...
Oh, and I’m going to a funeral this Saturday. Yeah, lots of death stuff.
Why is that we tend to be so uncomfortable with the idea—and even the approach—of death? There are probably many important and insightful answers to that question, but here’s one you may not have thought of before: Maybe we’re so uncomfortable with the idea of dying physically because we have not yet become comfortable with the experience of dying daily!
In my recent book Monk in the Marketplace I explore the idea of “conversion” as an ongoing series of small deaths. And while there is a sting to each of these small deaths of the false self, these are also our single greatest source of hope and joy and relief. It is, in fact, transformation. A touch of heaven right here on earth.
Death is releasing. Perhaps releasing our grip upon a loved one whose time on earth is complete. Perhaps releasing our grip upon attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that are destructive to ourselves and others. Perhaps releasing our anxious white-knuckled grip upon employees that creates a toxic organizational culture. We release in order to receive.
As we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection in the coming days, I invite you to name something that needs to die (be released) in your life or leadership today…and then name what needs to be received. What needs to come to life?
Try the Daily Examen this evening: Get used to releasing the day at its end instead of holding onto it, rehashing what’s past or stressing over what’s to come. Let the day die with gratitude…and receive the gift of sleep! “For he grants sleep to those he loves” (Ps. 127:2).
Death, in all its forms, loses its power to intimidate us as we embrace the art of releasing and receiving in our daily conversions.