When You See Death

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Every year on Ash Wednesday the Church faithfully reminds Jesus followers around the world that they will return to dust someday, but this is not a fact I need reminding of

Every damn time my foot falls asleep I wonder if it's happening. Is this numbness? I’m in my mid-thirties now. That's when she started experiencing symptoms like numbness. I'm tired all the time. Yes, I have four boys and a job and a crazy beautiful busy life, but still, maybe exhaustion is a symptom. My head hurts. Oh, I haven't had any water today, I'm probably not dying. I'm probably just thirsty. I can't see straight. Everything is a little fuzzy. This is it. I'm done for. My fate is the same as hers. Oh, there's just a piece of fuzz stuck in my eye. There. Now I can see with my perfect 20/20 vision. There's hope. But I'm still tired. 

You see, I have seen the world through a death lens. 

It’s like the other day when I was talking to a friend on the phone: In my defense, this is something I so rarely do, like once a year rare. Halfway through our conversation I began frantically searching my house for my phone. I was so frustrated because I just needed to send a quick text to my husband but I could not find my phone anywhere. I got so obsessed with finding it that I actually started to miss some of the things my friend was saying. Eventually I laughed hysterically at myself as I pulled the phone I was using to talk with her away from my ear a bit, needing to actually see it to believe I had been that ridiculous to search for something I was holding against my flesh. Whatever.

I don't wear eyeglasses of any kind but I know that's a similar thing people do sometimes: search for glasses that are actually sitting atop their noggin. Happens. And sometimes we go years of our life wearing lenses we never knew we were seeing the whole world through. We all have on a pair of lenses made up of everything about us from our personality type to where we were born to what religion we were raised in to who our parents are to what experiences we have along the way. We all see the world and everything in it through a lens, it's just our personal viewpoint. But I also think we can put on a different pair of lenses if we so choose. It might be difficult considering all that went into constructing the first pair. Sometimes it's excruciating to choose a new pair when the old ones have been practically glued on.

I lived with a dying mom for years, the most formative years of my life. As a teenager I thought about death more than I thought about the prom but I had no idea that as my life continued on after my Mother's ended that I would keep on seeing death everywhere: in friendships, in marriage, in religion, in navigating the simplest of every day to day grind kind of things like laundry, in raising children. In life, I saw death. Raging fear of the death I had seen was absolutely controlling my mind, my view point. Which is just to say that I forgot to live and the only thing worse than death is being alive but not really living. 

Life is beckoning us to live it, though, and God never fails to call me back to it when I pick up my glasses of death again and obliviously wear them around for too long. God whispered to me to come back to life when I camped in a mountain village of Haiti and when I gave birth and when I ate a particularly delicious pizza. Life and God are positively everywhere, I just sometimes forget to see through that lens. I wore the glasses of death for so long, I forgot they were there. Once I became aware, I could more easily choose which lens to put on, to see the world through.

Choosing a new lens is precisely what is meant by the other popular phrase chanted over Jesus followers attending Ash Wednesday service each year: “repent and believe in the gospel.” To repent is simply to switch directions and the gospel is the good news that God is here on Earth with us, as close as our breath, in us and for us and giving us new life at every turn. The Christian faith tradition teaches us that God is so life giving that even death itself is an experience of brand new life. Where we see death God sees a new beginning. And so, every day of my life I practice taking off the lens of death and instead seeing all of life through the lens of the gospel. Game changer. 

How do you see the world? Are there a pair of glasses you've forgotten are pressed against your own flesh? Might remembering they are there help you navigate your own beautiful life? Is God whispering reminders to you? Might you listen today and choose a new pair of glasses by which to see this gorgeous life through?

Photo by Robert Nickel


About the Author

Kate is a writer, pastor and mama living in San Diego, California. She co-pastors Sojourn Grace Collective and homeschools her four children. Kate also co-hosts a podcast called The Kate and Colby Show where you can hear her discuss all things life and faith with her life partner and co-pastor, Colby.

You can also find her podcasting and creating at sheiscalled.com or check out her poems and prayers at katechristensenmartin.com