Attentive to the Moments of LifeFr. Barnabas Powell
They say there is a point of absolute clarity when a person is facing their own mortality. We’ve heard it all before; “Your life flashes before your eyes.” Of course, this is a moment in human life we humans regularly avoid thinking about. Our mortality isn’t something we like to dwell on. And yet, it is a part of life.
St. Ambrose of Optina teaches “You must not be greatly troubled about many things, but you should care for the main thing — preparing yourself for death.” Over and over again, we read this kind of insight and wisdom from our Church Fathers. But what is it about preparing for our that is so important? Don’t we run the risk of not really living at all if we are always dwelling on our death? Paradoxically, no. In fact, it turns out the ONLY way we will ever LIVE well is to prepare to DIE well!
Look at our lesson today in Isaiah 37:33-38:6:
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, says the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” And the angel of the LORD went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went home and dwelt at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, slew him with the sword, and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in thy sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.
The People of God were facing some very scary times. The Northern kingdom of Israel, the 10 tribes, were overrun by the Assyrian Empire and carried away into captivity, leaving the Southern kingdom of Judah to fend for themselves against this mighty army. The Assyrians laid siege to Jerusalem and King Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance. God saved Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom, but no sooner was the kingdom saved that the King fell gravely ill.
So, Hezekiah did what he knew to do: He prayed to God for mercy. And God granted the king another 15 years of life.
But that’s the way of wisdom. We learn how to depend on God, not in the easy times or the comfortable times, but in the crucible of troubles and pain. Hezekiah knew he could run to God for his own life because he had witnessed God’s faithfulness to the nation. It was Hezekiah’s familiarity with faithfulness that prepared him to face the terrors of his own mortality.
And, while God did spare his life for an additional 15 years, Hezekiah did, eventually, die. And his passing was prepared for because of how he had dealt with his real-life struggles.
Today, are you awake enough to your own moments in life to see how God is placing in your life all you will need to face that moment of truth, your own mortality? If you’re wise enough and awake enough today to look around you, you will discover such treasures in your day that will be invaluable to you to keep your life turned toward God and prepare for your eternity by being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord of Creation, my Time is in Your hands. My days are numbered by You and Your wisdom. But I am so prone to forget this and to allow my time to pass by without seeing Your grace in each moment. Please use this season of Great Lent to help me become more aware of the moments in my life and give me the grace to embrace the spiritual disciplines of the Faith to form my heart and soul into Your servant. Amen.