In between sips of tea, she recalled to me, “My husband and I had been married for 62 years when he died…. It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him–sad to say…. Take something as simple as making a meal, for instance: when you’ve been making dinner for two for that long, buying the groceries, preparing the food and all, you just don’t know how to do that for only one person…. Sometimes I think I hear him calling from the other room, or I’ll be reading the paper, and I look up, half-expecting him to walk through the door of the living room.”
I sat listening, incompetently. I was 24, serving in the U.S. military, and a deacon at my local church–in Niceville, Florida. Luella was 82; she was on the “list of widows” at our church. And I was dutifully–it was, sadly, a duty for me–stopping by for a long overdue visit.
My conversations with the widows were usually awkward–I often didn’t know how to start (or continue) a conversation. Inevitably, I felt they had ministered to me more than I had ministered to them (which isn’t saying much). And this occasion was no exception.
On the drive home I tried to relate (in vain). She had said, “It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him.”
I brushed the thought aside and went to Scripture. I had been meditating on Romans, especially Romans 5-8, and I was wrestling with the following verses:
“We are those who died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6.2)
“…count yourselves dead to sin….” (6.11).
I was fairly sure that Paul, when speaking of those who had “died to sin,” was referring to Christians.
But my sin wasn’t dead. I was in a raging, often losing battle with sin. I remember saying out loud, as if Paul were sitting in the passenger’s seat, “Sorry, Paul, but my sin is alive and well, thank you.”
Why should I keep fighting for?
Well, I knew that Paul obviously didn’t think that being “dead to sin” meant never sinning again, because he later says, “count yourselves dead to sin….Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”
So we’re dead, and yet it’s like we still think we’re alive. I need to “count myself”–i.e., consider myself–as dead.
Weird. How can we believe someone is dead, and yet go on living as if they weren’t actually dead?
The widow’s words came rushing back to me: “It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him.”
She and her husband had been married–they had been “one flesh”–for 62 years: it had become virtually impossible to discern where one ended and the other began. They were not an “us” but an “I.” And so when he died, in a very real way he wasn’t the only one who died.
She (obviously) believed that he had died, and yet living as though he were dead was anything but natural: even as everything had changed–forever, she had found herself living at times as though nothing had changed.
Those who have lost loved ones tell, wincingly, of the way that the finality of death can be so cruel: like the waves of the sea crashing one after another, relentlessly, indifferently. I can remember talking to one young lady after her mother had passed three years earlier. With (entirely undeserved) self-loathing, she shook her head and said, “She’s dead. You’d think I’d actually get that at some point.”
The cruelty of death’s finality is directly related to the intensity of our love for the one we’ve lost.
But imagine if we received news of the death of a mortal enemy, of one who wanted us dead. Perhaps we had testified against a mafia ring leader, placing him behind bars, and he swore he would do everything in his power to have us killed.
For the rest of our life, we regularly relocate, always watching our back, looking over our shoulder, examining every face, always expecting the unexpected, never knowing whom we can trust. Will he get to us and to the ones we love? And it becomes our way of life.
But then one day, unexpectedly, we hear news of his death. We research the matter, seeking multiple sources of verification. We struggle to believe it. We travel to the city, to the morgue, hoping to see the death certificate ourselves.
And we come to believe it. And we begin anew.
But old fears and patterns die hard. We have to remind ourselves–re-convince ourselves–of his death. And the finality of his death once again hits us freshly. Yes, our life remains something of a contradiction: family and friends wonder when–or, sometimes, if–we will ever change (and we do, too). But it is true: nothing can change the past.
And that’s what keeps us going. That’s why we fight.
Slowly but surely we come out from under the power of another.
“We are those who died to sin. How can live in it any longer?”
When Christ died, we died by virtue of our union with him. We participate in his destiny–in his life, death, resurrection and reign.
“…count yourselves dead to [the power of] sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its evil desires.”
There’s a fantastic scene from the HBO series Band of Brothers, where a lieutenant informs a fearful enlisted man that the reason that he is too scared to fight is because he doesn’t realize that he is already dead. Brilliant.