Not long ago, a DJ on the radio brought up the spine-chilling topic of near-death experiences. The discussion really sank deep with me, because just that week, a family acquaintance’s life had been tragically cut short in a road accident, and so death was already kind-of on my mind.
It was a fascinating radio show to listen to, with people calling in and sharing their own personal experiences. Although each person experienced leaving their bodies in unique ways, there were some common threads that strung the stories together into an eery tapestry of the afterlife. Some of these commonalities were:
- I saw my Dad / Mom / someone I love, and they were dressed like…
- Someone spoke to me and said, “I’m not ready for you, son.”
- I saw my body lying there and I understood what was happening, but I felt incredible peace. I didn’t feel any fear at all.
- I was surrounded by a warm feeling and sensed a presence of peace and love.
- I didn’t want to come back.
Now, I’m not here to write about ghosts and lights and pearly gates. On the contrary, I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens here on earth in those final, fleeting moments before being called home.
I can’t help but wonder if the final encore that a person performs on earth is tragically their most powerful one. You hear it from people who narrowly escape death: they realised in that moment what was important all along.
They call that estranged sister and reconcile. They start that charity that they never had the guts to launch before. They travel. Sometimes, in a person’s final hour, they make radical spiritual decisions, like taking up a sudden faith in God and committing their remaining life to Him.
It’s as though impending death causes the spirit and mind and body to align in moment of pure, crystalline clarity, a state of knowledge of what is good and what is right, ultimately what is true.
And sometimes, you’re lucky enough to take that moment of clarity into a ‘second chance’ and get a few things right, before heaven really does call your name.
But what about those of us trudging along through life, with (mercifully) no such near-death experiences to teach us these radical lessons? How are we to tap into that deeply pure truth from our mundane day-to-day existences?
I don’t know if this is the answer, but it’s the closest thing to a conclusion that I can come to (for now – while still working it all out.) I suspect that following a near-death experience, one would mostly experience immense gratitude for the chance to continue living, which would explain the sudden influx of meaningful choices being made.
Can you imagine the chaos if we all lived like this?!
Can you imagine the sense of fulfillment, the wonder of life and nature, the meaningful relationships and friendships and real conversations, the earth alive with the energy of people being alive, and grateful to simply be alive….!
What a glorious chaos it would be!
…But chaos nonetheless, so maybe we’re not all meant to taste the bittersweet fruit of death in order to wreak havoc on our own mediocrity.
I’d venture to say though, the secret of gratitude is given to those willing to use it…. and you don’t have to nearly die to receive it. Maybe you just have to know deep within you that your days are numbered and what you possess now – life on earth – is a most magnificent gift.
One of the reasons why I love Philippians 4 is that it’s one of the clearest portrayals of gratitude in the Bible:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
It’s quite simply a picture of putting your eyes on all that is good, and true and lovely and admirable… and being grateful for those things, embracing them, rejoicing in what has been given to you – another day of life. I’ve also just noticed how peace seems to follow gratitude wherever it goes.
Some people who have faced death – and especially those who have supernatural afterlife experiences – seem to have another thing in common: they are eternally minded.
They don’t sweat the small stuff, because they know how little the small stuff matters. They pick their battles, and only put their hands and energy to things that are truly significant… things that are eternal. And often these new decisions make no sense to the rest of us, because they’re playing on a new level now, a level where eternity is more visible and the final outcome is forever in their sights.
No longer obsessed with the mindlessness of this world, they are filling their lives with the only possessions that they could possibly take with them to the grave: a sense of satisfaction of having lived well and generously, and memories.
Even the Bible – what a book – talks about all this:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~James 4 vs 13
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ~Romans 8 vs 18
Living With Meaning
I still don’t know all the answers – I am still learning. But surely, considering that every one of us must face our Creator someday, shouldn’t we be living lives of meaning, by being consciously and constantly grateful for each moment, and making choices that have eternal repercussions, that spread light into the world and into heaven?
Do we really need to face down death for this to sink in?