Living things desire to continue to exist. The tree stump in your flower bed which you have repeatedly hacked away at continues to send up green sprouts hoping to take in the air and sunlight to keep itself going. It does not want to go gently into that good night. Animals too will face danger and possible death to propagate their species–recently, a couple of birds, apparently facing scary odds in the yard, decided it would be worth the danger of being around humans to set up a nest in our garage opener and also in my son’s swimming trunks which were drying on the line near the washer and dryer. We humans share that same instinct and endure great difficulties to live on and provide the best we can for the next generation. People in the past produced children, businesses, buildings, monuments, photographs, works of art, literature, church decorations, charitable organizations, legislation, wars, and tombstones in an effort to be remembered by us, the living, and live on.
Crumbling photos found in the home of a relative who has recently passed away remind us that these people were a lot like us. They took photos trying to preserve memories of their lives for themselves and us who look at them after they are gone. We look at them now and do not know that is Great Aunt Jeanie at her beach holiday at age 19 with her best friend that she had known from down the street while growing up. These are just some people with weird hairstyles. And the pictures are crumbling away, getting thrown away in the house clean-out because the home must be sold off. No one digitized the memories because no one knows them anymore. The best the majority of us can hope for is for our great grandkids to remember us, probably as a little old person who was hard to understand, smelled a little funny, and didn’t move around much because she needed assistance. And even Julius Caesar, who we still remember today, is still, ultimately, dead.
Unlike the animals and plants, we know we are going to die. We resist this ultimate oblivion. We try to stay alive in any way we can–first physically, then through our children, and through our work… We are driven by our nature to love, be loved, to live. Death reminds us that no one is indispensable–no matter how important we think we are, death is the great equalizer and humbles us. We all will face that final good night. It is not a question of if, but when, how, and after what kind of life? Will we go like thoughtless and miserly Scrooge, or generous and loving Scrooge? Of course, in our rightful minds, everyone would choose the joyful, meaningful existence. And anyone who gives to and loves others gets much more back in return, and God won’t be outdone in generosity, as they say. When Scrooge came to see that his money could not keep him alive forever and he had a chance to reflect on his choices and their effects on himself and others, he made a choice to live for others. He chose to live a life that mattered and the way for him to do that was to share love with those around him–forgive debts, be vulnerable and love people, give away his wealth and trust God instead of himself. When you face facts and live like you are going to die, you choose differently. You invest in things that will truly pay off.
Of course, if we believe in the Gospel, we can live with the knowledge that even in bodily death, we live on eternally. We continue to be beloved children of God in relationship with him. We step through the veil, perhaps guided by a loving relative or friend who has gone before us, and take up residence with God himself in eternal bliss where every tear is dried and all desires for love and life are forever fulfilled. It is hard to be afraid or sad about that, if we truly believe it. The monks and nuns who gave up all earthly renown, all physical pleasures including having children, were able to do this because they knew that this earthly life is not all there is. They had faith that there is something much greater to come and they didn’t have to build monuments to themselves or raise children to continue to matter and exist. Along with the fruit of their prayers, the great contribution of the monastic vocation is the witness to the faith with their very lives. Our greatest fear is death, and the Gospel teaches us, if we can believe it, that it is nothing to fear at all but is, rather, the doorway to bliss.
The difference between a life of despair and pain versus a life of joy and meaning is FAITH. Faith is truly the pearl of great price. It is the gift of God that is the key to every door we want to walk through and a shield against every danger or pain we want to avoid. With faith, everything is infused with eternal meaning and joy. Without it, nothing has meaning, everything is empty–death is already upon you. If faith is the key that turns a bad life good and a good life bad, shouldn’t we cultivate it at all costs? Much more than money, education, health, pleasures–faith is the thing we should seek to grow more of so that we can know God. Communion with God is the fulfillment of every desire of our hearts. Hell is rejecting this life with God. Faith is the boat that takes us safely over the ocean of this life to the country of Heaven on the other side.
Practically speaking, the best self-help advice we could follow to increase our earthly happiness is not getting the hippest hairstyle or home decor. It is not having the most lucrative business or having written the best-selling book of the century. It is belief in the Gospel of life. The more we believe and submit to the Truth of this amazing love of Jesus, the more we will live accordingly–the more we will love ourselves and others and find meaning. So how can we grow our faith?
Desire and pray for it— Pray with the distressed father in Mark 9 that was in need of a miracle, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
Act on it–If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Do you do things that would make no sense if God was not real? Giving sacrificially makes no sense if God is not real. Praying for an hour a day instead of exercising or lounging or working makes no sense if God is not real. Standing up for your unpopular principles makes no sense if God isn’t real.
Feed it–What you feed, grows. Do the things that help it to grow such as read spiritual books, seek the company of believers to build you up, educate yourself with knowledge of the faith.
Protect it–Avoid those things you know that weaken your faith–perhaps certain books, places, songs, people…
Plan your life around it–We can learn from the monks, who are human like us and struggle as we do sometimes. They have chosen a way of life that reinforces and makes it easier to withstand assaults on faith. Prayer, study, worship, and community are all there, built into the rhythms of their lives to support them when they are weak so they continue to grow and resist the temptations life brings. We can do this too.
Cling to it–We should value it as we would our one shot to get off of a desert island–at all costs, do not miss this boat. Nothing is more important–remind yourself of this daily by regular prayer.
What are some things that help you to live and grow in your faith?