The visitor arrived on the third Friday in September of my fifth-grade year. It slithered in unannounced, descending upon our home and bringing a canopy of sorrow. I was introduced to death during a perfectly ordinary afternoon, somewhere between afternoon snacks and the excitement of Friday night football.
I became acquainted with death in the same in-between way that it had arrived, halfway to our house and the neighbor’s, on our gravel road, for all the world to gawk at my unfamiliarity with grief. Dad, who stood as the intermediary between death and myself that day, carried a burden no parent should ever bear on his frame. The weight was apparent by the broken sobs with which he shared the news that we had lost our oldest brother.
Still shocked by the news and unsure how to respond, I did not cry instantaneously. Instead, I was ushered into our suddenly solemn home through rays of late afternoon sunshine.
The worst happens on a Friday.
I don’t remember my plans for that Friday evening in September of ’88. What I do know is that it involved sleepovers and silly ten-year-old girl things.
I remember some rather vivid snippets of that day and the following week; the funeral and wanting to be close to my aunt and grandmother, which I rarely saw. The people that came from near and far to love on my family when we needed it most. I also had a rather strange way of coping those first few days. At some point, I found the comic page from the newspaper and kept it next to me all that night and the next day. I allowed myself to read only one at a time, saving the rest for distraction when the waves of grief again slammed into my young heart.
And although those memories are set in stone—still brightly colored—most have become white-washed by time and distance, the way memories tend to do. Sadly, the fear I felt is the one memory that is etched more profoundly than any in my soul.
Fear of death
The day my brother left this Earth, visceral fear of death settled uncomfortably in his place. And although I hated the fear, it felt so natural. Over the years, each death that touched my life only reinforced the fear of it. The uncertainty and certainty of it all at once gave me a fright.
From that time forward, fear became my mentor.
I never spoke my fear out loud for years because I decided it would be rather un-Christian of me. I was reminded by every message I received that the fear of death was not something Christians struggled with. After all, we know where we’re going, right?! To fear death in the mind of many Christians meant you were broken and possibly not Christian at all. I was told that fear and faith don’t fit together—one can not stand with the other.
However, today I tell you I am a follower and believer in Jesus Christ, and yet, death is still my greatest fear—whether myself or someone I love. There is a paradox that wrestles within me daily; fearful and faith-filled.
How can I be one and the same?
Because I am a believer in Jesus and his redemptive power over death… but I am also still human.
I saw only fear that long-ago day in September when death came and sat at our family table. I spent so long gazing at one side of the coin that I missed the other entirely. The other side held the truth that though my brother was gone from this Earth, he had found victory the day Jesus welcomed him into his forever home.
Oh death where is your sting, oh grave where is your victory? 1 Corinthians 15:55
It was not a day of defeat as Satan would have liked, it became a redefining for us, yes, but it was also simultaneously a glorious celebration in heaven.
Another saint had arrived home.
Death is a thief. Period. But redemption is bigger. Always.
We buried my brother on a Monday surrounded by those we loved and the entire senior class of his high school. Today, if you were to climb the well-manicured grassy hill of the Veterans Cemetery and descend upon his gravestone, you would find the reference to Job 19:26-27 inscribed upon it.
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. Job 19:26-27 KJV
Death’s cold hands ripped my innocence and big brother away on a Friday. But the bigger truth is that God ushered healing and a saint into heaven that same day—a paradoxical truth: sorrow and celebration.
I don’t know why my brother’s time was a short 18 years on this Earth. However, I do believe sincerely in the God who does know. And because of this—even though I struggle with the fearful emotion of it— I believe that death doesn’t have the final word. Ever.
The fear of death and how to defeat it
The truth is that fear—even this fear— will still sit down at our table. It’s inevitable. But the flip side to this truth is that if Jesus is at the head, you needn’t dismay.
God has taught me to speak my fears out loud to shed light where darkness ruled. I believe the fear of death is far more prevalent than we care to admit. The unknown and finality of it can frighten even the most sincere of Christians. And you know what I firmly believe? God doesn’t hold this against us.
In fact, I would dare to say he expects it.
In our walk with Jesus, we must remember that He knows we are made from dust, frail, and in need of reminders often.
Oh, friend, if the fear of death holds you hostage, remember that it has been conquered above all else.
Death is the inevitable journey we will all be asked to take as long as our Lord tarries, but the most glorious truth is this:
He took that journey before us.
No other truth that quiets my fear more than that he never asks us to do something he has not already done. In His gracious kindness, our creator came and tasted death for us. Yes, he died to save us; this is true. But he also did it to relate to this unnerving journey we are all asked to take. He is a great High Priest who is well acquainted with our struggles.
Because of this, we can confidently stare down death and his sickle with the truth of I Corinthians 15. “Oh, death, where is your sting, oh, grave, where is your victory?”
Remember, even death has no rights over those who are in Him.
As always, friend, thank you for stopping by,