My family finally got together last week. There was only one problem: Grandma was in a coffin.
I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly weird as my family members chatted with their old friends while Grandma just laid there, a blank expression on her face, flowers awkwardly placed in her hands. It wasn’t that I was overwhelmed with grief; I was actually relieved to see her exchange this cruel world for eternal life. No, it definitely was not grief.
It’s a long story with my grandma and I; we never had much of a relationship. She had a lot of personal problems when I was a child that made it hard for the family to get close. Things changed when she was struck by a car and through that situation, she came to know Christ. Her life was truly changed. My mom began to care for her, and I began to get to know her. In the few years that I had with her, we still never developed the kind of relationship one would normally picture between a grandmother and granddaughter. Our conversations were always surface level, and most of the time she was content to sit and watch Judge Judy during my visits. I think she spoke to me more from that coffin than she ever did during her life.
Actually, it was God speaking to me through her condition. Our lives are so very fragile and painfully short, but somehow, we manage to fill them up with the most insignificant things. I’m reminded of the beautiful passage Paul penned in Philippians 1 in which he wrote about his reluctance to choose life over death.
He said, “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; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Phil. 1:21-22, TNIV). This was Paul’s great dilemma: die and be with Christ or live and suffer as Christ did so that more may be saved.
I certainly haven’t reached Paul’s level of maturity. My biggest dilemmas in life are whether to date or not date, what to do on a Saturday night, which car to buy, what city to live in and whether to get a job or pursue missions. Many people would consider these pivotal decisions worthy of much thought. However, in light of the question Paul posed—in light of my grandma lying there completely void of life—the decisions that consume my life are nothing short of menial.
And there stood my family, huddled in different clusters, catching up with old friends, whispering about my aunt who wouldn’t come. My grandma was practically screaming, “This life is just a vapor!” from her coffin, but no one seemed to notice.
I noticed. I wanted to run—to sell all my possessions and run to China or Afghanistan. I didn’t want to waste another single minute in which I could have made a difference for His kingdom. Maybe I should have done it. Perhaps I should have turned heal and ran out of that funeral home and set off with a passion. Perhaps then I wouldn’t be sitting here wishing I had a new computer that didn’t crash all the time. It’s also possible that my passion would have worn off as soon as I got to wherever I was going and couldn’t find my way around or speak the language, leaving me miserable and full of resent.
I think the message in all of this lies somewhere in the middle of the two polar extremes between which I tend to bounce. This life is so short in the grand scheme of things, so each step should be carefully chosen. However, we must also be careful not to over dramatize each step. The key, I think, is to always remember God in perspective. He’s huge, and I’m tiny, yet He cares enough to speak to me through my dead grandma. I do not share Paul’s spiritual stature, but I want to, and that’s something God appreciates. Maybe monumental faith begins with the desire to have it. Maybe God uses moments like these to kindle that desire within us. If we seek Him we will find Him, and it all begins with the desire to seek.
I don’t really know why we have that weird practice of putting corpses on display at funeral services (a picture would surely suffice), but maybe it’s because, sometimes, dead people have a lot to say.