Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

The Mother of My Savior

There’s something wonderful about being a mother.

When I held my son for the very first time, everything about my precious boy amazed me.  His fuzzy head, his tiny nose, his grey-blue eyes, his fingers and toes. I kissed every part of him and prayed that his hands would be lifted in praise to God and his feet would walk in the way of Jesus.

I imagine Mary also marveled at her baby boy as she kissed His downy head.  I am sure she gazed at His face as He slept and her heart was awash with Mother-love.  But when she pondered where those feet would go and what those hands would do, surely the words of the angel echoed in her heart: “You will give birth to a son . . . He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). 

Her son was destined for greatness – but she could never imagine the path He would take to get there.  Rejection, persecution, suffering, and death would mark Jesus’ earthly life.  He would wear a crown of thorns rather than a crown of gold and His hands and feet would be nailed to a cross rather than kissed in adoration.

But there, in the smelly stable, she kissed that sweet face and caressed those tiny fingers, knowing in her heart that her life would never be the same.  He would one day “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but this little one needed her now.  The helpless future King was depending on His mother to feed and nurture Him until He fulfilled God’s purpose.

Babies bring out the tenderness in a mother’s heart and no doubt Mary felt the sweetness of her newborn son even as she wondered about the angelic announcement.  His life held the greatest purpose imaginable.  He was destined to be a King, but not tonight – tonight He was her baby boy with tiny fingers and tiny toes.

The Gift of a Mother

hand-in-hand-mother-and-baby-love

The first loving face I see,

That voice I know so well,

That’s the heart I’ve heard beating,

For nine long months,

Repeating its song of love.

This is the sweetness of my Mother.

 

First kisses, sweet nuzzles,

A warm bath, soft cuddles,

Her finger tracing my face.

The sway of the rocking chair

Late in the night.

This is the tenderness of my Mother.

 

Storybooks and nursery rhymes,

Learning the Golden Rule.

Walking away on the first day of school,

I look back to see her smile

Through her tears.

This is the heart of my Mother.

 

First dates and late-night talks,

Seeing her pride as I walk

With cap and gown across the stage.

Phone calls in a panic—

She always knows the answer

This is the joy of my Mother.

 

Her eyes never dimmed,

But her voice has grown thin.

The wisest woman I’ve ever known

Draws quiet breaths now,

I hold her soft and wrinkled hand.

This is the gift of my Mother.

In my Prison of Fear

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

 

God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.

Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.

But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.

But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.

God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.

I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.

God, I need you.  Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.