Some few of us in this life are given the somewhat questionable gift of knowing, in a close-to-certain fashion, when we are to leave it. In the midst of all the craziness that is Assyria's assault on the Promised Land, the repentant king, Hezekiah, is given some "good" news first: the attacks, the siege will last three years and then there will be peace enough to plant fields and vineyards again. Assyria will eventually go away. After the "good" news (parentheses included because who calls a three-year siege "good?"), Hezekiah falls ill. Via the prophet, he learns that there is no recovery from this illness. This is it. It's time.
So, he turns his face to the wall. He "takes to his bed," knowing that he won't be getting back up again.
Reading this passage, I am reminded of my grandmother's passing. She was diagnosed in her early 80s with a dissecting aortal aneurysm, and due to her age and general health the surgeon informed her that even if the surgery could be performed she would certainly not make it through recovery with any quality of life. She made the decision that it was time, and the family was called together to attend her passing to Christ.
That sounds succinct and even a bit poignant, doesn't it? Assuredly, my grandmother's faith was strong. She knew that death is change, not an end. She knew that the veil of her passing would lift and that she would see Christ. She knew it, and we knew it.
But that doesn't mean she was particularly happy about it. Even though her life was ending, it was still hard to let go of it. After all, life is life. We have faith in the resurrection, experience and knowledge of it has to wait.
As I took my turn at her bedside, I asked her if she had any regrets. Her reply, "I am just sorry that I never did figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up."
We get so many days of life, to engage in the adventure and challenge of living in the here and now. We accumulate days and moments of memory like a cascade, a tumult of treasures to review that lend meaning and depth to our present. We know life is fleeting, and so we invest those treasures of experience in hopes and dreams for the future. All that, while we walk with God and seek to derive meaning, and then to find out that in a short while it will all end.
The good news, at least to some extent, is that Hezekiah gets a reprieve: fifteen years.
What would you do if you were in his shoes?
To speak the truth: we are all in his shoes. Some of us are like my grandmother. The time is short, and we want to make the most of it while at the same time we watch the hands of the clock sweep away the minutes. Others, many others, know the sweetness of a longer reprieve. It's another story to tell at another time, but I once came within moments of drowning. After being pulled from the water by my rescuers, I knew my life had quite literally been spared. What to do then? How to live the rest of life?
Short or long, that reprieve is something we all are given. All of us can join in Hezekiah's musings:
"Surely it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but you have held back my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
For Sheol cannot thank you,
death cannot praise you;
those who go down to the Pit
for your faithfulness.
The living, the living, they thank you,
as I do this day;
fathers make known to children
your faithfulness." (38: 17-19)
Our calling in this life is to make the most of our God-given-and-blessed moments. For Hezekiah, it was fifteen years. For my grandmother, it was those few hours with her family in hospice. For me, it will be the remainder of my life after the near-drowning.....
....and for you?