Sunday, March 10, 2013
When Is Death God's Will?
I have had many thoughts and discussions of late with friends --- and with God --- about my desire (and theirs) to do GOD’S will. I find them increasingly difficult conversations as I have become more aware of the difficulties in overcoming MY will (witness my last post), but also of my friends’ difficulties in knowing and overcoming THEIR will, and all of us being able to have civil conversations on the subject. It is one in which we have many ingrained thoughts --- and fears. It seems to me that we have become confused about what is God’s will for us, and especially confused, when it relates to death, and related family and (surprise!) money issues.
What is God’s will regarding our death?
Death is inevitable for humans. Augustine noted that in God becoming man, we gave Him death and He gave us life. He willingly accepted death as part of the Father’s plan and, as Scripture says, even welcomed it. And now, for our part, we look at His life as a perfect example of how our life should be lived, and so we seek to imitate His life. But do we? “He willingly accepted death.” Do we? Or when we come to that part of our life do we look elsewhere for our example? Do we fear death so much that we can’t even think about it, but seek common solutions from others about how to die: “These are preparations everyone should make,” so they say.
Recently I started making some of those “preparations everyone should make” as I considered my will. The conversation with the lawyer began with him saying: “I’ll need the names of your children or relatives you’ll leave your money and possessions to.” A simple will needs to put down those simple facts, but it came to me that --- honestly, it was a flash of insight (of wisdom, I believe) --- that the leaving of our monies and possessions to our family is a huge, common assumption. There are other things to be considered. And I recalled some experiences of my life, and of Jesus’ life (and death), and I felt that the common assumptions of what I should do were by no means an “of course,” simple, path. And then I wondered: “How did Jesus prepare for death?”
Now there are two factors to consider when speaking about preparing for death. I began by speaking about a will and financial preparations for after my death, but the fact of death’s coming must be prepared for also. Jesus saw death coming, that it was willed by His Father, and He accepted the Father’s will. Jesus did not fight death’s coming. My experience in recent years is that most of us do not follow Jesus’ example in this, rather we fight death to the bitter end, and because it is a battle, “bitter” often describes the end. While I have seen some friends (and my sister and father) graciously accept death’s arrival, I have seen others enter long and painful (physical and mental) fights against death. The country, and friends and I, have had long conversations about having enough insurance/money to ensure we are financially able to fight a long medical battle against death. But is it a battle, at least in some cases, against God’s will? He willed the death of His own Son; isn’t it possible that He wills our deaths also? Jesus says He longs to be one with us. Is our “of course” attitude regarding death contrary to, fighting, His will for us?
And what does the Church say about these matters?
The Church has put forth some statements on when it is permissible for us to willingly give up our life, and not have it be considered suicide, a grave evil against the value of life. I think many people read into these statements that not only is it permissible to fight death up until this point, it is mandatory. But I don’t see that “you must fight to live” attitude in Jesus’ example. Even in death, He sought to know and accept His Father’s will.
Our country, and financially-driven “death panels” may be seeking to define what is a reasonable “financial” effort to fight death. Before that happens, I think the Church needs to have more conversation about when it is reasonable to have a “spiritual” effort to fight against death, and when it is reasonable to view coming death as a matter of God’s will, and not something to do battle with.
Fighting death with all our strength, and all our money, does not seem to be Jesus’ example.
Returning to the financial aspects of preparing for my death, I considered God’s will for me, and Jesus’ example. How did Jesus “prepare a will,” make his testimony about what He wanted to happen beyond His death? The only thing I see in Scripture is that He made plans for the care of His mother: “John, take care of her.” And, I note, there was no mention of money. And as for His other relatives (and Scripture indicates He did have other relatives), He makes no mention. Perhaps some of them were poor; perhaps some of them were sickly, but He makes no mention. We know of no physical assets Jesus possessed, a house or animal (or life insurance), but He had more resources upon death than many people of his day: He had devoted followers. Surely, if He felt it important, wouldn’t He have told John and the others: “And, of course, since you love Me, I know you will also take care of my other relatives.”
But He didn’t say that. During their lives, He told His followers to leave family and friends to follow Him, and one He even told to leave others to bury his father. If Jesus said this should be their priority in life, why do so many of us think we have some huge obligations to family in death? And even if we do focus on family, why do we focus exclusively on their financial well-being, and not their spiritual well-being? One of the things not often talked about in discussions about a will is the word “love.” How do your bequeath “love” in a will? I think it is the most important thing we can leave.
When the conversation turns to money matters, it is so easy to get muddled, and allow our fears about money to come to the surface. While I was talking to one friend about my use of money upon my death, he quickly related how we need to have adequate life insurance for the huge medical bills which “might happen.” And so I asked, how much disaster should we prudently prepare for? The one in five elderly who end up in assisted living, or the one in a million who contract some rare illness? I was talking about how much to expect to have left to give away when I die, but his mind couldn’t get past immediate money worries: “Well, before you give all your money away, you’d better make sure you have enough saved in case something happens to you.” Just retired, he couldn’t get himself to concentrate on the topic I wished to address, but found himself focusing on his immediate worries. I get his point: it’s hard not to think about our own “potential” needs, and to prudently prepare --- but we can’t define “prudent”. We may criticize millionaires, but when it comes to ourselves, it seems no amount of money is too much, “just in case” we need it. And considering our will, we transfer our “just in case” worries to our relatives.
When I ask about friends’ relatives: “Do they need this money you plan to bequeath to them,” my friends rarely answer yes, but instead begin a litany of reasons of why they might. “I’ve got a sickly grandchild who might need expensive medical care. My children haven’t prepared well for their own retirement; they’ll need to money I leave them. They have a huge mortgage.” (And the one I least liked: “They deserve some good things, and they’ll have the money to get what they want.”)
And I’m sure they will.
I told one friend the conversation made me think of Christmas presents, the kind we typically receive. “Oh, another sweater, how nice! And socks, oh thank you, these will keep me warm!” If we were truthful, most of the presents we receive we don’t “need.” Oh yes, we “might” need them, and our heirs “might” need the money we feel obligated to bequeath to them. They might. I understand. “That’s why I bought an insurance policy,” I said to one friend, “in case an asteroid hits the United States and everyone is killed but me, so then I’ll have money to buy a boat to go somewhere else. Yes, that’s a good investment; I might need that money.”
Ummm, that kind of killed that conversation with that friend. (Did I mention I sometimes have a problem with sarcasm?)
All these thoughts and difficult conversations came about because I began thinking about my will, and God began to put other thoughts into my mind, other than the things that the lawyer thought I “of course” needed to do.
I’ll stop writing about these thoughts now because, well, what I will do with these thoughts is an unfinished story, or prayer. I HAVE asked God: “What is your will for me at my death?” And I shall try to wait for His answer.
I once made a vow to Him that I would seek His will in all things and try my best to do it, and so I shall. Even in death. I will do with my assets, upon my death, what I think He would have me do, for His children and for the continuation and spread of His teachings --- with some priority for my family in their “needs” because I love them. But it will be for their real needs, not imagined or hypothetical. I will show them my love freely, and not try to buy theirs. I will try to evangelize Jesus Christ to the degree I am able, so that future generations, long after I am gone, will know and love Him, “with all their heart, and all their soul and all their mind.”
I believe this is God’s will for my life, and for my death. And so in both, I will to love.