By Margaret Bronson
My sweet friends are faithful to frequently ask me, “So, Margaret, how are you doing… really?” However, I’m not great at responding. One moment I may say, “I’m actually doing okay.” The next, I may say, “My heart is breaking.” In my head, I feel crazy because neither feel like a lie, but I wonder how both can be so true at the same time.
As I write this in anticipation of a life-altering surgery my husband is about to undergo*, I feel more keenly than ever that I exist in two worlds. I’ve got one foot here in this world, confined to this body, limited by these eyes, and constrained by my circumstances. My other foot is in Glory, sitting at the feet of my Father, listening to His words, and feeling His loving arms around me—strong and protective, immensely capable to care and provide for me. I live in both places. At the same time. My soul is at peace and comforted, while my body physically hurts from watching my husband face death daily.
My earthly self is mourning. The sadness is overwhelming. As I look at my husband’s disease riddled body, I see the effects of sin. I see death. When I look at his wounds, I mourn how much he has already died. I mourn the loss of good times as he played outside with our kids. My heart longs desperately for a Saturday afternoon with the children laughing and swinging, while David and I lay in the hammock reading. I am afraid. Life without David terrifies me. For the children’s sake, I must realistically face the possibility and plan for it, and it hurts. My mind and my soul cry out.
My soul is at peace. Evidence of God’s profound love for my family is all around me. I see His trustworthy character and His desire for His people throughout Scripture. I feel His loving presence when I meet with His Body. I hear His Word preached, and I am changed and rebuked in my doubts. I remember His faithfulness to us throughout our lives. Death has lost its sting. Even death, the great scourge, only serves to unite us to the One we long for. The separation it brings is temporary and but a moment in a glorious eternity.
So how are we to understand this one-life, two-worlds dichotomy? Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus, even though Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead moments later (John 11). The Lord of Glory wept, despite knowing that all this pain, suffering, and death in our world would be worthwhile for our good and for His glory. He wept because we were not created for death.
It was not God’s desire for us to experience death. Our souls were not created for separation from those we love. Death is an effect of the Fall (Genesis 3). We downplay the horror of sin when we downplay death. Because of salvation through Christ, death has lost it’s sting for the one who dies. But, for those who are left behind, we feel the separation, and it breaks our hearts. We have been created for Eternity where there are no goodbyes, but we reside on earth where death still holds the cards.
Life and death coexist. They are not equal and opposite forces, merely acting upon one another. Instead, they are my two separate realities. I don’t get to land in some comfortable place in the middle of the two extremes. Both remain with me all the time. Sometimes one speaks louder than the other, but I trust the life guaranteed in Christ far more than I trust my earthly way of thinking. I know that, in the light of eternity, life in Christ has the longer and more important perspective, so I try to soak in the Words of life and allow them to be loudest. My eternal soul preaches the gospel to my dying, earthly self and comforts me when all I can comprehend is death.
The reality of the whole matter is I have never been more secure in my whole life. My entire life is lived within the palm of my Father’s hands, and every movement and force that acts upon me is at His permission. Stonewall Jackson’s quote frequently challenges me to allow my beliefs to change how I live my life: “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 speaks of groaning in this earthly tent. Christ came to earth and sacrificed Himself on the cross for the unworthy, never gaining any reward here on earth from it. In the same way, when His beloved ones sacrifice and suffer here on earth, it may not be for their good on this earth but for the good of the unworthy and lost around them. When each of us comes to the inevitable end of our days, our reward for faithfully following our Father will far outweigh the sacrifices made here on earth, blinding us from what seems so costly right now.
So dear brothers and sisters, press on. Every day may bring soul-crushing fear or breathtaking sadness, but you are joining with your Lord who said, “My body, broken for you.” Heaven—where pain is literally a thing of the past, goodbyes are no more, and this body doesn’t break under exhaustion and weariness—is coming, and eternity is here. Do not forsake mourning and grieving the loss of this life; the Creator of the universe cried for a man who was only dead a couple of days. But do not forget that we live in two worlds. We mourn in one, and we hope in the other.
As Christians, let’s learn to minister to other believers who are hurting, suffering, or afraid by speaking to them in both worlds. We cannot neglect the hope we have in Christ’s victory over death, nor can we neglect the weight of earthly suffering. When connecting with the unbeliever, though, our hearts should break as we realize that this present world of mourning is all that they have. They have no hope in death, and the pain is unfathomable. As they suffer, our faith in Christ compels us to tell them of the hope we have in Christ and the victory He has won over death (2 Corinthians 5:11-15).
Ultimately, we live in two worlds. Our citizenship may be in Glory, but our human feet walk a thorned and thistled earth. Sometimes, our life in this present world hurts deeply. And when it does, mourn with me, pray with me, and suffer with me. And let’s hope together in the Christ who mourned, prayed, and suffered on our behalf, that we might find our hope in a glory yet to come.
*Margaret’s husband underwent surgery two weeks ago and still remains in the hospital for complications that came with the surgery. Please join with us and our church family in praying for David, that God would heal him and continue to sustain him through much suffering.