Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
Although a first impression is certainly important, it is the last impression that sticks! Without a doubt, the first impression is important –in this world. Mind you, I said, “in this world.”
Take, for instance, a job interview which offers an applicant moments to leave the right impression. Despite crazy fashion fads, tattooing, facial piercing, outrageous hairstyles, and slang talk in certain settings, job procurement in most companies still demands an expected protocol before a person is hired. Other than the occasional memorable blunder in an interview, most first impressions offer a person the opportunity to get themselves in the door – yet are soon forgotten.
Final impressions, however, remain with others. Such impressions cannot be undone by subsequent actions because they are genuinely the “last” impressions. These are the impressions left as one faces the closing moments of life.
After nearly two decades of working with the dying, I have observed consistent themes, memorable events, and outrageous stupidities. One such absurdity is the notion that most people want to die in their sleep. People reason that dying in one’s sleep spares them from the emotional good-byes to family, friends, and careers. “I’ll just fall asleep in my bed and wake up in the arms of Jesus.” Hard to beat that!
My most memorable experiences about death include devoted Christians who said the right thing, buried hatchets, and provided the final insight that helped their survivors move on with life after their deaths. I recall people who, after receiving notice about a terminal and untreatable ailment, wrote incredible letters or left behind video testimony of their faith and love for others, to be remembered as beacons of hope long after they were gone.
Unfortunately such positive experiences are not always the case. I am compelled instead to address the the outrageous stupidities involving the death experience. I mention this fully aware of the fact that the readership of Clearly Caring is Christian. What I wish to address are those things Christians sometimes do or say which leave lasting impressions of confusion, distress, disappointment, and even doubt. Consider this list:
1. Ignoring death: “Pretend it’s not there, and maybe it will go away.” Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Yet, many Christians falls into a rut of pretending death is not a part of life. Often, parents shelter their children from facing the death of friends and family. Euphemisms are used to gloss over death. How many of us talk about a person who “passed on,’ “left us,” “went ahead of us” but avoid at all costs the use of the word, “death”?
Think about it! The most common denominator in life is death! No one can escape it, because everyone dies. So why is it we do not treat death as a part of life? It is because we want to avoid the emotional trauma of death. We do not want to say “good-bye.” We do not want the tears. We do not want to be forced to explain the surreal experience of having someone with us one moment and not there the next.
Death is real. “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Preparation is key, just like someone who pursues education to get a job promotion or saves money for early retirement. People prepare throughout their lives in order to reach a goal. Likewise, everyone WILL die. That reality, when faced early on, better prepares us for life in eternity. Consider the following:
2. The last shot: The most troubling observation I have had over the years is how some Christians use their impending death as a forum to get one last shot in about the things that bother them. I have observed many hurtful things said or done: the ungrateful or troubled family members taken out of wills; the disliked family members and acquaintances shunned from the bedside of the dying; parting words that scold and punish. Where are such actions and attitudes defended in Scripture? Harboring hatred to the point of death is precarious. Scripture reminds us, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:15). Why endanger your soul in the closing moments of life? Instead our gentleness is to be evident to all (Philippians 4:5), our words are to be words of direction (Philippians 2:15), and our demeanor is to be one of hope and optimism (1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Peter 3:15).
3. Final control: The current “death with dignity” movement is false advertising at best. The movement is not as concerned with dignity as with control. Our society swallows the ridiculous notion that taking action to end one’s life is somehow more dignified than if it occurs naturally. The idea ignores God’s authority over life. He says, “I put to death and I bring to life” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Assuming the right to shorten one’s life is a presumption contrary to Scripture. Do we really want our parting shot in this life to be an act of rebellion against the Creator of life?
Death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). It is the ever-present reminder that sin is so devastating in this world it causes the death of everyone. It results in the greatest of all of life’s heartaches. Whle Christians can rejoice in the deliverance we have from death through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57), do not forget the cost of that deliverance: the only innocent man ever to have lived had to die to save all the guilty ones (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Facing death is a pivotal point in a life that is always facing eternity. Death is not a final moment but rather a milestone. The entire life of a Christian should reflect a consciousness of his or her own eternity. Consider the familiar hymn, I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home. While we want a warm and friendly family, good friends, a great job, and a comfortable life, we live each moment aware of the fact that it is temporary.
If God gives you the opportunity to know the limited moments you that have left in this life, think about the lasting impression you will leave. Think about what you will say. Think of how your faith can shine in this most familiar yet feared moment of most people.
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