Sometimes God gives us gifts that we don’t even realize are gifts until some time later. In these final days of Advent, God has given me one such gift. Up until this week I had viewed this gift as a curse, a curse that would follow me for the rest of my life, tainting and eliminating all of the joy I was supposed to experience at this time of the year. Today is the day that my mother died three years ago. And while it was, and still is, painful, God, in his infinite wisdom, has brought good out of my sorrow. In this goodness, I have found opportunity to reflect upon faith and life, and I want to share this with my friends, and my family, especially my family.
1. Be Prepared For Death
One of the main themes we witness in Advent is the message of John the Baptist: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the path.” Not unlike Israel, our lives exist in anticipation of the arrival of the Lord, the arrival of the Kingdom. Jesus may arrive at any moment to take our souls into eternity. We will not know the hour. I did not expect my mother to die when she did and I can only wonder if she herself expected to die when she did.
Death can come to each of us unexpectedly. I read the news and I see a small child gunned down in an act of road rage, I see terrorists kill Germans at a Christmas market, I see ambassadors mowed down, I see a wedding party crushed by a falling tree. None of these people expected, when they woke up, that they would never return to their homes, that they would take their final breath that day. None of us are guaranteed those things. We make plans daily as if we will live forever. But some day, those plans will not materialize.
We must be prepared to meet the Lord. We must do as John the Baptist calls out for us to do: make straight the crooked path. This means first and foremost that we must begin to root out sin in our lives. We have to confess our sins to the Lord and then we must resolve to live for God. Whatever that sin is: an addiction, sloth, spiritual negligence, a relationship we shouldn’t be in, sleeping around, gossiping, we must give it up. And if and when we backslide, we must continually give it up to God. We must prepare ourselves to receive God and to be received into God’s presence. We do not want to be caught unexpectedly in sin as the bridegroom comes back, there is no repentance in death. Lucky for us, it only takes a fraction of a second to turn our hearts, right now, in this moment, back to God.
It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
2. Live Without Regrets
This isn’t some hokey message about grabbing life by the horns and not letting go. This is about forgiving yourself of your past. There is nothing that you can do to make the mistakes of the past completely disappear. To live on in regret of your past mistakes does nothing but hurt you. There was a very long time after my mother died that I lived in regret for the tensions I experienced with her. I beat myself up every day for those things. But when I brought them to a priest in Confession, he told me that I needed to give that to God, there was no benefit in dwelling on those things. We have all done things we are not proud of, things we did when were different people than we are today. They are a part of all of our stories, and we can either learn and grow from them, or we can let them slowly darken our hearts.
3. Accept Change
Following big events in our lives, many changes inevitably take place. Our first temptation may be to stop them. If we prevent them, we believe that we can somehow maintain normalcy. We may try to hold on to specific traditions, outings, relationships, or lifestyle choices. But a death, a birth, or a marriage always change these things. Just as we can not hold onto our past through regret, we fight a losing battle if we hold onto our past through the rejection of change. In my own case, I recognize that by losing a family member, the family dynamic has fundamentally changed. I can’t say that that those new dynamics make me happy, but I also can’t say that they are unexpected. I could try to live in the past and try to recreate every good memory I have, but it is unrealistic. Change is here I must allow God to cultivate deeper growth in my soul.
4. Never Stop Praying
If there is one thing I wish I had done more of while my mother was alive was pray for her. Of course, I let go of this regret, and I learn from it. I am learning to pray for my family more consistently. Sometimes I am so caught up in my own cross, that I forget others have crosses and they need prayers. I am doing my best to remember to pray for them, that they would receive the grace, that all of us might receive the grace, to prepare for the Lord. I pray for each of us to have a deeper relationship to God, a deeper reliance on God, and a deeper desire and strength to prepare our hearts to receive him through the abandonment of sin and weakness, that we may all follow him no matter the pains and struggles that may bring for us.
But I am also trying to remember to pray for my mother. If I don’t, who will? I wish I could say that her death has greatly increased how much devotion I have for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but I cannot. But I am trying, trying to remember to pray more often for them.
Finally, as I have been reflecting this week, three years seems like such a long time. I look at all that has happened in that time, and it all seems to have happened so long ago. Just one example is that when I look at the friends I spend the most time with these days, the people I am the very closest to, most of them I did not even know yet when my mother died, and I feel like I’ve known these people forever. And yet, there are days, like today, where I woke up and it seemed so recent, like I had just received that fate-filled text message a few seconds before. And though some days are really hard, I take this yearbook quote to heart today because I can’t think of a profound and sophisticated way to say it:
Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.