A friend recently made a post on Facebook with an innocuous question. What do you want out of life? But then it hit me. I should be obsessing on life instead of death. I have been obsessed with death for almost my whole life. It started at the age of two when my younger brother died. My mother carried Matthew full term only to give birth to a baby who couldn’t survive in this world more than three days. This was a devastating experience for my parents as you can imagine. I do not remember much from this time. The memories I do have are feelings and thoughts I have attached to pictures that slightly move like the ‘live’ photos an iPhone captures. This is not surprising, after all he was born and died in 1981 and I was born in 1979. I have made great attempts at remembering everything I can from that far back but when I have mediated on deeply buried memories I get pieces of the puzzle. I am not even sure if these are actual memories or my own imagination at work. But this was a significant event for my mother and my mother was my world at the age of two and I am still a bit of a momma’s boy. Watching her grieve, though I do not remember details, had a real impact on my own emotional development.
Somewhere in this process is where I believe I broke. God has been slowly trying to put the pieces back together but that’s been like gluing a vase back together, a vase that has legs, likes to run away, and doesn’t know if it even wants to exist. It was during this time that I became obsessed with death. I did not understand death or what it even was. What I knew of death was simple and very confusing. My mother was pregnant with my baby brother, she went to the hospital, came home, and was very sad. She wasn’t pregnant anymore and my baby brother had died. Like I said, my mother was my world and seeing how much my brother’s death hurt her made me not ever want to die or else I might hurt her as well. Thus, I became obsessed with death, what it was, how to avoid it, what it meant, and what happens when it happens.
I don’t think I ever asked my parents a lot of questions about Matthew and if I did ask any the answers probably left me more confused. To this day thinking about death creates feelings of confusion and anxiety. I have spent so much of my life trying to avoid the inevitable. Here I am, almost forty, realizing that I have spent all this time answering the question, “what do you want out of life?” With my answer being, “to not die”. I have spent half my life with the ridiculous goal of not dying. In my brokenness I answered a question about life with a statement about death. What is wrong with me? It took me almost forty years, half my life, to figure out that I have obsessed about the end. I’m glad I am having this realization now. At forty a lot of people start to face their mortality but I feel like I’m finally ready and able to stop focusing on my eventual death and start to face life. I want to be obsessed with life and that is not just the medication talking.
Since becoming a Christian my views on death have changed, but I’ve still been obsessed with it. I’m always thinking about the end of my time here in this body and how freeing it will be, yet still scared that it will happen too soon and I’ll end up hurting my mom and dad like the death of Matthew did. And now that I am married with children I know that my death would have such an impact on the lives of my own family that I am in no rush to have this happen. In fact, I really, really, really, don’t want to die so I can be there for them. But my focus is still wrong. I am still obsessed with death and avoiding death when I should be focusing on what to do while I’m alive.
Now, when I look at the question, “what do you want out of life?” I wonder if that is even a question I should be asking at all. Is it about me? Should I be trying to get anything at all out of life? Is this not a self-centered question? Now, I am not trying to say we shouldn’t have fun. Enjoy life. Eat, drink, and be merry. Find what pleasures you can and enjoy them but, like death, they are not something to obsess over. Some might say we shouldn’t obsess on anything, but for me, that’s asking this fish not to swim. Obsessing on things is what I do so obsessing on the pleasures in life will inevitably become a life of self-obsession.
Besides, is our life our own or is it owed to the people around us? I honestly feel like I owe my life to God and I can best give my life to God by living for the people around me. I worship God by living for the only thing the Bible said are made in the image of God (humans) so if I live to only serve myself I am in essence worshiping an image of God. I do not want to worship the image of God (humanity) by serving myself. I want to worship God and I do this by serving the people made in God’s image, helping them and caring for their needs.
I do not have a bucket list. There are things I want to do in life but I do not really care if I ever experience them. Life is so much more than the sum of all our experiences that completing a list of things to do before I die seems meaningless. That is not to say other people should not have a bucket list. They are a great tool to help people begin to face their mortality. But, facing my mortality isn’t my problem, it is how do I best live life in spite of my mortality.