I have a good friend who likes to say that “life is a series of deaths.” In saying this, he is referring to the fact that our journey on this planet involves many farewells and demands of self-denial—and each of these represents some kind of permanent loss. As you grow your childhood perishes. With each graduation during your school years you say goodbye to friends, many of whom you will never seen again. And the ones with whom you do stay in touch you will never know in that context again. When you marry, much of your freedom dies, and with the birth of each child you must lay aside worthwhile projects and even some dreams. And then come the real deaths. You lose friends to accidents, cancers, and even suicide. Your parents begin to fail and suddenly you find yourself having to parent them in return, perhaps nursing them into that good night—always half believing its not really happening. It’s just one death after another.
Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? Well, it would be if that were the whole story. And I suppose that if I thought it was, perhaps I’d have gone the way of some of my departed friends by now. But it’s not the whole story. Because with each of those deaths has come new life. God has a way of replacing lost projects and dreams with even greater projects and dreams. Far beyond the meager imaginings of my youth and even my young adulthood is the joy and satisfaction I’ve found in my wife and children as well as the broader community of which we are a part. What calling is higher than investing your life in other souls? Even the pains we feel in this context are, as C.S. Lewis would say, “more precious than all other gains.”
Of course, there are goodbyes ahead for all of these relationships as well. More deaths to come in a seemingly endless train. But it’s not really endless. One day, we are told, all death will cease and God will wipe away every tear. And, if Scripture is to be trusted, there are good things which emerge from our earthly trials—good things which are endless, such as the virtues we develop in persevering (cf. James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:5-7). God does not put us through this soul-grind without reason. He does so to mold us into something wonderful, even the image of Christ. And if that isn’t worth enduring a series of deaths, then nothing is.