Any student that has been in my classroom will tell you I have a dark sense of humor. They might tell you that there are bodies in my closet or they attended a funeral for "said", "nice", and "bad" (as pictured above), but the best (or worst) example is in our homeroom's birthday celebration. We do not sing "Happy Birthday" like the other classrooms, or really, the rest of the world. We sing a version that closely resembles a funeral march that I borrowed from a friend in youth ministry - "happy birthday, happy birthday, misery is in the air, people dying everywhere, happy birthday." After our depressing dirge concludes, I announce to the classroom, "Congratulations, _________ , is one - year - closer - to - death!" Candy is thrown at the student, and there is uproarious cheering and applauds. Although this may appear dreadful and in bad taste from the outside, time and time again, I have students lean in to confidentially tell me, "just so you know, I will be one year closer to death tomorrow," so we don't miss out on the celebration. Like many of the decisions I make, the students enjoy it, so we continue to do it, even if it is a bit out of the ordinary.
In stark contrast to this ironically gloomy ritual are the facts. Do I really want to die? No. Do I really want my students to die? Absolutely NOT! However, I know the nature of death. It is the ever-looming presence in the shadow of all the lives of all men (and women, boys and girls). It is the wage of sin (Rom 6:23) that can demand payment at any point. But our lives don't acknowledge it, we don't talk about it, and we spend our days as if eternity has already been achieved. Here lies the the problem with death. It is the one unavoidable aspect of our lives (if you don't include taxes, Benjamin Franklin), yet it is the topic we would most like to avoid. Well, now is the time to begin coming to terms with this ever-present issue.
" Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
It was a few weeks ago when we happened upon a serious discussion about death in my classroom. We were dissecting a quote by George H. W. Bush, who most recently passed away. He roughly stated that the solution to every problem starts with education. A student, who disagreed with the quote, rather bluntly, as the nature of being 11 or 12 years old, shared his opinion, "How does education fix the problem with death?" I shook my head, and pursed my lips. It was a good question and a valid point.
Giving it a momentary thought, I replied, "Is it possible to educate yourself on death?" Around the room, heads were scratched, eyes moved from side-to-side, and shoulders were shrugged. "I mean, you know you are going to die, right?" - the statement greeted with hesitant head nods, students still not knowing how to take the turn in the conversation. "Is that not education?" More head nodding. "What if I told you, every morning, when I wake up, one of the first questions I ask myself is 'What if I die today?'" This statement was greeted with the appropriate level of shock, even by students who are used to my twisted sense of humor. "That is DARK - Why would you say that?", was pretty much the collective response. Despite their shock, I continued my thoughts in words resembling these:
What do I know about death? Two things for sure. 1. I know it will happen one day, and 2. it could happen at any moment. As I speak, I could have free radicals floating inside of me that could be forming the cancer that will take my life. With my family's history of heart health (and my consumption levels of bacon), I could have a heart attack in my early 30's that will cause me to flatline. I could collide with another vehicle at the end of the school's block and not get to the hospital in time. Even if I stayed home to protect myself, there are dangers lurking in the kitchen, bathroom, and there is risk of a home invasion. Knowing this, pretty much every morning I ask the question, "What if I die today?" I think about that question when I get into a car without my wife and tell her, "I love you," and give her a kiss goodbye. I think about it whenever I greet and leave my family and friends with handshakes and hugs. I think about it when I am singing in the morning at my classroom door, or giving correction with "you are better than this behavior," or telling you right now, "I love you." I think about it as I try to remain positive in difficult conversations, or when I am speaking kind words to people I don't necessarily get along with. Most importantly, I think about it with my faith and how it will be remembered. It drives all the other actions, and it helps me to educate myself on death even more. So do I think about death? All the time. Will I die? Yes. Do I want to die? No. Do I worry about it? Not really. I take action on what I know, so today will be an okay day to die, if I must, and I will be at peace knowing I fell asleep in death giving it my all.
"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
- Matthew 6:27, 33
At the conclusion of these words, there were a few tears in the room, most filling the cracks between my eyeballs, lids, ducts, and sockets. I didn't want to talk about my death, and thankfully, my students didn't want to talk about my death either (well, at least that day).
So how does the problem with death change our lives?
The challenge my students considered is yours as well (and mine, because being honest, some days would be better days to die than others). What if you knew 2019 was your last year? What would you do different? Who would you spend your time with? Where would you go? What would your conversations be like? How much does your life resemble the things you would or wouldn't do if you knew you had a few fleeting-vapor, dust and shadow moments left? Whether death comes today, or in the next century, we can educate ourselves and take action in faith, not against death itself, but in the life lived for the assurances that lay beyond it: a coming day with no more pain, fear, or sting. Congratulations! Today, you are ONE-DAY-CLOSER-TO-DEATH. <Applause> Now, what will you do to celebrate the hope you have?
“'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23