I remember being an eager child, dying to practice all the things I was learning, from math to music, skipping to science. When I could not figure something out or did not have it mastered, that only motivated me to practice harder, to prove that I could do it. I still love a good challenge, but somewhere along the way, I stopped enjoying the practising as much as the accomplishment.
I became aware of this a few weeks ago when a friend who doesn’t have children asked me if pregnancy is terrifying. It was an interesting question, I answered, and rambled my way to hearing myself say that I find pregnancy difficult because it challenges me to let go of things I don’t want to: my physical strength and endurance, my sense that my body is entirely my own, my time and energy. At the same time, I said that while I know pregnancy is great practice for other situations and stages of life, I find it difficult to let go with intention, even when all the excitement, perfection and sleeplessness of a new baby await me at the end.
The conversation, like so many other moments in my life, seemed insignificant at the time, but soon after God started to use it to weave together several threads that have been hanging around the seams of my life lately. Threads about dying on the seams of the way I practice living.
I suspect the threads are always there, hanging off the edges of my life even when I’m unaware of them, but when I feel like my neatly packaged life is coming unravelled, my first instinct is to tidy up. Perhaps you can relate? I see the threads, which were happily flying in the wind, pulling at the stitches ever so gently, and I start trying desperately to hide them, tuck them away, or pull them out without doing more damage. No matter how carefully I try to fix them, I cause more unravelling.
I think this is God’s way of things. God is in all his glory in the unravelling where I don’t know what is happening and cannot see where I am going. Right in the middle of my unravelling life, God starts weaving. Back to the conversation. I went on to say that pregnancy invites me to practice things I will need at other stages of my life: resting when I am tired, modifying my schedule and expectations when my body can no longer do things it used to, and allowing others to help me. These skills will be critical for aging and for dying. And it turns out I am not dying to practice the skills I will need for dying well.
The public discussions about physician-assisted death and a new job in health care have me reading a great deal these days about aging and dying. I have been letting go of the things I loved about my old job to make room in my heart for the things I will love in the new one. I find it more uncomfortable and unfamiliar to practice, to fail and try again than I have in many years. And here I am, not knowing and not seeing, and my life is beautiful, actually. Thanks for asking.
Our world desperately needs to see us actually die by living well in the places where we do not know and cannot see. We are all afraid of suffering, and we make it worse by resisting the places that scare us. I do not know why living involves dying and I cannot see what God will do with the ashes. This very moment, a friend of mine is grieving and living through her own dying and writing about it with a strength that makes me want to practice letting go every chance I get. Two sets of our friends are fighting for the very lives of their babies. How often we do not know and cannot see and must practice casting ourselves and those we love into the hands and heart of God.
I desperately need to practice living through the deaths that surround me, both so I can see and share in whatever gifts are given in the dying and so I will be better prepared to live my own dying well, whenever that universal experience becomes my imminent reality.
God of unravelling threads, deepen my enthusiasm to practice living. Teach me to delight in the undoing of my life, to anticipate the glory of a future I cannot see, and to trust that what I know now is enough to face now. And wherever dying awaits me, help me to live it fully, with an eagerness to meet you even there. Amen.
Perrault is a wife and mom, a grateful employee of Emmanuel Care, and a speaker, writer and consultant at www.leahperrault.com