This afternoon, after our school day wrapped up, I logged on to my MacBook Pro and found a pleasant surprise: fun pictures of Caroline, which were taken with a friend’s iPhone. I checked my calendar, which is an app on my iPad, then I strapped my iPod to my arm and went for a run. I got back, showered, and tossed my iPad in my purse and headed out the door for soccer practice and a cross country meet.
I didn’t know you, but you changed the way I run, write, communicate, and connect.
I thought about you while I ran: about your story, about your accomplishments, about your age (only a few years older than my husband), about your wife, your children, your extended family, your close friends, about all the folks who did know you. I’m sad for all those people.
I thought about all the news articles, blog posts, and status updates I’ve read in the last week. Some of the tributes I read were truly beautiful reflections of your life, and others were poignant reflections of the writer’s sadness. There were others too. Many of my Christian friends were posting thoughts: aren’t we glad your biological mother chose life? Yes!
Then there were thoughts that made me sad in a different way.
These other thoughts revolved around speculating about the value of your life and your eternal resting place. They say, sure you were a creative genius, but aren’t we, the Sunday School teachers, elder board members, and pastors so much better?
Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing that last part. But read this example, written by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., who serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
But unerring taste, aesthetic achievement, and technological genius will not save the world. Christians know what the world does not — that the mother tending her child, the farmer planting his crops, the father protecting his family, the couple faithfully living out their marital vows, the factory worker laboring to support his family, and the preacher preparing to preach the Word of God are all doing far more important work.
Far more important work? He, Dr. Mohler, is so smart, insightful, and powerful as to know the heart of each individual. He is so insightful as to take the You Tube video of your commencement address at Stanford, and the same articles we’ve all read to make his assessment of your life, a life he is far removed from. Mohler takes tidbits of what we, the general public, know about you and determines that he knows fifty-six years of living, breathing, loving, thinking, dreaming, and u-turning. Wow! Dr. Mohler, and all those others making judgements about your life, every minute of it up to the very end, are just amazing aren’t they?
In the days following my mom’s death, folks who didn’t know her would ask, “Was she a believer?”
Yes, my mother believed. So now I was faced with a smile on the face opposite me. Then the spoken or unspoken, “Oh, that’s terrific, (insert sappy, sometimes phony sentimentalism) don’t be sad, she’s in heaven. Isn’t that terrific! You should be rejoicing!!”
My very heart had just been ripped out of my chest. My best friend, my confidante, my avid supporter and cheerleader, my children’s grandmother, my sounding board, wasn’t going to be on the other end of the phone line, or sitting on the porch with me tomorrow, or the next day . . . I guess I’m just a selfish person, or the worst Christian in the whole world, because I wasn’t rejoicing. I was sad. I usually just said, “Yeah . . . ,” thinking to myself, please get me out of here! Anywhere, just away, so I don’t have to feel guilty about my true feelings.
Think about the awkwardness of it. What is the person going to say when I tell them my friend or loved one didn’t ever teach Sunday school, or ever darken the portico of First Best Church on the corner of Main St. and First Ave.? Are they going to look me in the eye and start talking to me about the eternal fires of hell? Yeah, that would be nice. To avoid this incredible awkwardness, and a lengthy theological discussion, I usually change the subject, which is awkward in itself.
As a Christian, I think about Christ when I’m asked this question. I think about the man hanging on the cross next to Christ. I think about amazing grace. I’m glad it’s Christ in charge, and not Dr. Mohler, or me.
I go back in time. To the crucifixion, for example, and I see the Dr. Mohlers who knew all about people from the You Tube videos they watched, and articles they found on the internet. They knew all about the value of the man hanging on the cross next to Jesus. The Dr. Mohlers who were not close to the man or the family wouldn’t have heard Christ’s assurance and the forgiveness so freely and gracefully afforded at that private, last moment. I am in no way implying you were a criminal, or that this is what happened, or even needed to happen in your last minutes. I am saying that this is what I think about when I’m asked the “awkward” questions. I’m not God, I don’t know your heart. I have been given a glimpse into the heart of God. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to pretend to know anyone else’s heart.
It makes me sad that your family, who have real feelings, might read Dr. Mohler’s article. They are sad, they are mourning, and they are real.
We humans naturally start thinking about our own mortality when faced with death. This is natural and good. We evaluate our contribution and our eternal selves, we make a feeble attempt to connect the dots going forward. I’m not sure who Dr. Mohler and the others are writing to, or for? My gut tells me they are only preaching to the choir. I sincerely doubt if anyone is going to see Christ, and His amazing love and grace in that article. What’s the point, Dr. Mohler? Do you feel better now? I don’t. I just feel sad.
photo credit: Jonathan Mak Long (http://jmak.tumblr.com/post/9377189056)