For My Friend

I lost a friend this week.
Showers.Nursery 105
She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.
She has suffered for too many years, enduring pain and sorrow, kidney transplants and countless hours of dialysis. Ever since her second transplant failed, her agonies had seemed even worse.
Yet through it all, her heart remained fully God’s. She was selfless, compassionate towards others while she was the one in pain. Even when the limitations of her body sent her emotions spiraling, she still knew and would declare unequivocally that emotions can play you false and that Love was true regardless of how you feel.
When I got the word that God had taken her home, my first emotion was relief. Relief on her behalf that she is finally free at last. Free from her physical body that so limited her spirit.
Yet as I think about this initial reaction of mine, I wonder why I don’t feel this way with everyone.  Surely, as Paul said, to depart and be with Christ is better by far, so why did I feel such sadness when Kristina died, when my Papa died?
Analise, Natalie and Papa
Surely I don’t want to bring anyone back here to this earth, to this broken world. Surely I don’t want to carry them away from God, away from being free from pain and sorrow.
I search my own heart and finally realize that what I really want is to join them.
I am not sad that they are not here, rather I am jealous that I am not there.
It is not a desire for everyone to stay here with me but a longing for everyone here to be there. With God.
What I really want is for God to come back now. I want Him to make everything right again. Perfect. New.
The Church often gives confusing messages when it comes to death.
We seem to bounce back and forth between the medical view that death is an enemy to be conquered by medical technology and the Ars moriendi view that death is a friend to be embraced because it moves us from the hated physical into the desired spiritual.
It seems to me, rather, that the Christian view, the view that comes from watching how Jesus Himself died, is that death is an enemy, but one that has already been defeated.
This allows for the reality of the sadness that we all feel when someone we love dies and at the same time acknowledges our hope for the future, our hope in the power of Jesus’ resurrection and in His grace that will let us share in that resurrection…that physical resurrection.
I am saddened by death. I hate death’s power to destroy and bring loss.
And I long for the day when God will make our world and our bodies new again, perfect and free from pain, sorrow, and death.
And so, as I mourn the loss of my friend, I embrace my weeping.
I weep for myself, for my brokenness and for the years in which she will not play a part in my story, and I weep with a profound yearning for Someday when all of our stories will finally reach
Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Last Battle

Art credits: The Resurrection painting by Luca Giordano; final quote and illustration from The Last Battle written by C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes

You Are What You Do

“I don’t feel like obeying today.”

My eldest believes that she should only obey when she feels like doing so.

I am quick to disabuse her of this idea.

The incident does, however, cause me to begin mulling over the connection between actions and emotions, between behavior and the heart.

Is there a reason why we are supposed to obey, to do what is right, even when we don’t feel like it? Isn’t that hypocritical?

“I shouldn’t read the Bible if I’m only doing it because I have to.”

“I shouldn’t go visit Maria at the nursing home because my heart isn’t in the right place.”

Which comes first? The physical act or the heart change?

A.J. Jacobs is a humorist who writes books about the human experiments he conducts. In several of his books, he mentions the connection between his actions and his emotions. 

In The Year of Living Biblically, he is focusing on Ephesians 4.29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” when he writes this: 

The weird thing is, I think my G-rated language is making me a less angry person. Because here’s the way it works: I’ll get to the subway platform just as the downtown train is pulling away, and I’ll start to say the F-word. I’ll remember to censor myself. So I’ll turn it into “fudge” at the last second. When I hear myself say “fudge” out loud, it sounds so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I can’t help but smile. My anger recedes. Once again, behavior shapes emotions.

In My Life as an Experiment, he says this: 

Historically, the handshake was seen as a democratic gesture…But nowadays, I think the bow has more benefits. Though it may seem pretentious, it’s actually deeply humbling. Just lowering yourself before someone – the universal symbol of modesty – makes you feel more respectful. Behavior shapes your thoughts. 

Is it odd that I’m finding wisdom in a comedian?

Yet God did create us with physical bodies, and our physical condition, whether health or posture, does seem to affect our emotions. 

If a comedian isn’t authoritative enough, how about Aristotle?

Aristotle also believed that your actions shape your heart: 

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way…you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. 

He also said: 

We are what we repeatedly do. 

 So perhaps, after all, it is not hypocritical to do right things when our hearts are rebelling. 

Perhaps, instead, this is how we train our hearts to desire right things.

Perhaps, too, paying attention to our physical bodies, such as our posture while praying, can help us to keep our hearts focused.

And since finding wisdom in a comedian and in an ancient philosopher should never be enough for us, God also gives us instructions for our physical bodies in order to help our hearts become truly His: 

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. ~ Deuteronomy 6.6-9 

Which commandments had God just given them? 

Ah. The most important of all.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. ~ Deuteronomy 6.5

Image credits: A.J. Jacobs from The Year of Living Biblically; cropped from The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio