You never know what you have until it’s gone.
That’s what they say, anyway.
But I think they’re wrong. I think you never know what you have until it’s about to be gone. It’s in those last few hours when you see it—that pause right before the end, when everything you’ve said and done flashes before your eyes. And yet, it doesn’t just happen—not all in one moment. It doesn’t hit you like a tidal wave, or crash over you like a waterfall. It slowly seeps over you, so quietly you almost don’t feel it, like trickles from a water fountain—all those beautiful sunsets on the beach, glittering skylines and cold city breezes, trees waving their branches in the night sky. I remember them all: the mornings when the sun was shining so brilliantly on the snow that it hurt my eyes just to look. Looking out over the big blue ocean and feeling something so beautiful, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe it. The evenings when the gold and red leaves drifted slowly in the crisp autumn wind, carried on the breeze, along with the scent of campfires and apples and burning leaves.
I can see the world more clearly now, too. When a young man killed 26 people in a school in Connecticut, most of whom were children, everybody was asking You, “Why? Why did You let that happen?” And I could imagine You replying, “Why did you let that happen?” And they wouldn’t have any excuse. No excuse other than that they just didn’t care. They didn’t care enough to get him away from violent video games and movies. They didn’t care enough to ask the parents to preserve their marriage. They didn’t care enough to teach him it’s wrong that 3,000 babies are being killed in America every day.
We say we want a better country, better kids, better lives, but the problem is that we don’t care enough to fight for it. It reminds me of the verse, Revelation 3:16— “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! But because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” It took me years to realize how true Your words were. Like so many people here in Your world, I was lukewarm and I didn’t even know it. I spent years telling myself that I truly wanted a better relationship with You, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t willing to go through what that would mean; I wasn’t willing to give what it would take. Being hot or cold would be too uncomfortable; I was lukewarm and completely fine with it.
It’s called apathy.
You try to teach us—I know that now. And looking back over my entire life, I can see how every moment—even the days when I wished that I could just fall asleep and never have to wake up—was all one big lesson. It was all leading towards something. I was too blinded by pain to realize it then, but now I know that You put suffering in our lives to teach us. And do we see the lessons? Most of the time, we probably don’t. You bring suffering into our lives to break our sinful habits, to rid us of sin—You even died so that you could rid us of sin—but we ignore it. Maybe You let that young man shoot 26 people at school to remind us that 125,000 babies were killed the same day, and that we need to get our priorities straight. But maybe we’ll never see it. Maybe we’ll continue our lives. Raising more and more children like him. We’ll live on, blind. Doing nothing but waiting.
It’s like in that book, the Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri. I remember Canto 7 of the Inferno, where the poet Virgil points out to Dante that beneath the River Styx there are people, buried alive. They are people that refused to welcome the light of the sun, a light we would call sanctification, and are now buried forever beneath the filthy waters. And I think that’s where we are. We’re trapped beneath our own dreams and fears and identities. We want to break through the surface—our lungs pull and scream for air—but we just can’t be bothered to climb out. And then in Canto 13 of the Purgatorio, there were the envious, on the mountain of Purgatory. Like those trapped beneath the River Styx, they didn’t love the light of the sun; they loved all the wrong things, and because of it, they were blinded. They had their eyes sown shut with iron thread and could do nothing but stumble and fall. Is that chapter about us, too? Do we want the wrong things, and the wrong things end up tying our eyes shut, so that we can’t see anything at all?
There’s one more verse I remember: 2 Corinthians 4:3b-4. That verse says that “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” We are so blinded by our sin and selfish desires that we can’t see the light—the true light of You. It makes me think of Saint Patrick, who was brought to Ireland as a slave from Wales and spent six years suffering far away from home. When he finally escaped and ran back to Wales, he could have never come back. Instead, he chose to return. He didn’t want the wrong things. The “god of this world” hadn’t blinded him; his lust for the darkness hadn’t tied his eyes with iron thread. Because he cared—because he accepted Your light—he could see the need of the Irish and became one of the most incredible men who ever lived.
Saint Patrick didn’t become like You by accident. But somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we somehow will. We want to believe that it can just happen, because we’re too scared of being hot or cold; we fool ourselves, because we want to think it’s okay to be lukewarm and blind to what you’re trying to teach us. Even when we’re assured in Matthew 11:30 that “His yoke is easy, his burden is light,” we’re scared by the thought of having opened eyes and back off. When all we need to do is let go of ourselves and strive to be like You, we chose not to. We decide not to care. We live, waiting, ignoring our real needs, ignoring other’s real needs—just waiting. We just wait for the day when everything will magically come together.
And we’re wasting time—precious time.
There are so many beautiful things in our lives that we just close our eyes to. All those millions of tiny fragments and moments that seem so every day, but are so precious when you finally see them, really see them: hot cocoa and warm fires; reading books; singing carols around the piano. Muddling around the house in that comfy, Saturday morning sort of way. Hot cups of coffee held in gloved fingers. Tire swings. Walking barefoot for the first time in spring. Fried eggs, sunny-side up. Waiting for the traffic lights to change, and looking both ways before you cross. Our entire lives are giant scrapbooks of color and beauty and joy, but we’ve ignored the scrapbooks completely because we see the scraps and not the books, because we’re waiting for the plaques and the crowds and we want the pictures to be halls of fame instead. We’re blind to the beauty, because we’re waiting for that moment when everything just magically gets better.
It’s because of apathy. It’s because we don’t care; we just don’t care enough to change. The only thing we care about are dreams that will never happen and hopes that will never come true, and even if they did come true they would never satisfy us. You are the only thing that can ever, ever satisfy us. You are the only true Light, the only true Way; You are our happiness and joy and everything that matters in this world. But we don’t fight to have You; we don’t fight to be like You; we simply don’t have the determination and the dedication and the discipline, and it’s all because we want to be blind, and we’re okay with being blind because simply don’t care. Even when 1 Peter 2:24 says that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed,” and we see that Jesus died so that we could be sanctified, we still don’t care. We don’t want sanctification. Like Thomas, we want to doubt. We just want to be blind.
Romans 8:7 says that “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” And that’s what apathy’s done to us: we’re born hostile to you, and our laziness and apathy nurtures our hostility. We’re blind, lazy, and hostile. The only way that we can get better and to be like You is to work, but that would be too much trouble.
So why did a 20 year old man kill 26 people last Friday?
Because we didn’t care.
The only way we can stop that from happening again is to care, to surrender, to fight, to learn, to grow, to give everything we have to You and that’s the only way that patterns of sin can be broken. But I know we won’t, because apathy is always there, chasing after us, and we’re more than happy to give in.
And I’m sorry, God. I wish I could go back. I wish I could reach back into the past, into every single moment, and forget about my stupid dreams and breathe in the air around me, feeling every heartbeat, glorifying You instead of dreaming about glorifying myself. And I wish I had more time.
Time. That’s the one thing we’ll never have enough of, isn’t it?
They’ve given me four days to live. For weeks I stayed hooked up to miles of tubes and drips and face masks, all in some desperate effort to prolong my life for a few more years, but they’ve finally sent me home. It’s not because I’m getting better that they sent me home. It’s because I’m getting worse. I suppose they just gave up and decided it would be better for me to live out my last few days with the people I love most.
They tried so hard to comfort me. They pitied me so much. But I’m not scared at all. When I think back to that book, the Purgatorio, I know that all of those people went through all of that, all those trials, so that they would be ready for Heaven. Even if I don’t believe in the mountain of Purgatory, I do believe that the process of sanctification, and I know everything that happened was You getting me ready for Heaven.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American Christian who pioneered the idea of the five stages of grief, once said that, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
I know that becoming like You doesn’t happen. It takes time. It takes caring. It takes determination. But You’ve done it.
I’m not scared. Instead, I’m through waiting.