These four words from a widow got me thinking about death (again)

I try to avoid tragedy stories on the news — stories of families dying in house fires, freak accidents during wedding receptions, a mother drowning trying to rescue her child. Sometimes I can’t help myself though — I’m that guy slowly passing the scene of a horrific accident on the side of the highway, subconsciously hoping to see something shocking.

Recently, I was scrolling down my newsfeed and saw a headline that caught my attention: “Air Force Training Crash Kills 2, Including Newlywed Pilot, 24.” I couldn’t help myself: I clicked.

There weren’t many details about the accident, which was still under investigation. The thing that got to me was four words that his young widow said in a heartbreaking Facebook post: “This can’t be us.”

Her response reminded me of the lyrics to the song, “Tell Me it’s Not True,” by Willy Russell:

Tell me it’s not true,
Say it’s just a story,
Something on the news

Tell me it’s not true,
Say I only dreamed it,
And morning will come soon

Over the years, the old wounds of trauma — particularly the death of a friend when I was 14 — have left me with nagging insecurities about death. Sometimes I do better than others, but eventually those old fears sneak up on me. Planes keep crashing, young moms keep getting cancer, couples get swept out to sea while on vacation. There’s this morbid thought in the back of my mind: It’s just a matter of time before it’s your turn.

Recently, I was talking to God about my fear of death and something rose up in my heart that I’d never said to the Lord before: “Jesus, I know I’m going to die. And although I don’t know what it’s going to be like when it happens, I’m counting on You to carry me over safely.”

A few days later, I was at my small group in which we’re studying Philippians, and a familiar passage jumped out at me: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far …” (Philippians 1:21-23).

I thought about that passage again and again in the following days: “To die is gain … I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” The words are still ringing in my ears, and they are ringing with promise.

I can count on Jesus, the one who preceded me into death. I am part of the body of Christ, which was raised from the grave with Jesus 2,000 years ago. Even if I haven’t seen my resurrection materialize yet, death is not the end of me. In fact, whatever happens after my death will be a net “gain” — it will be “better by far” than being alive here. I’m counting on Jesus for that.

Hope doesn’t mean anything if I can already see what I’m hoping for. And so, with true hope that I will be with Christ when my time on earth is over, I look forward to the moment when I will cross over to the other side of eternity.

Suddenly, there’s one line from “Tell Me it’s Not True” that is converted to hopefulness: “Morning will come soon.”

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