My 92-year-old neighbour Pearl died yesterday. Eight years ago I met her and her husband John while they were out for one of their daily country walks in the neighbourhood. Five years ago I noticed John would carry a fold-up chair with them so Pearl could sit and rest during the walks. Then Pearl shuffled along pushing a walker. Eventually, it was John pushing Pearl in a wheelchair bundled in blankets to keep her warm. And now it’ll just be John. Pearl had lived during the COVID19 pandemic but she wasn’t even aware of it and it wasn’t what took her in the end either.
As I think about Pearl’s life, I am reminded of what else she would’ve lived through. Born in 1928, Pearl would have remembered WWII and Canada declaring war on Germany when she was 11 years old. Pearl would have remembered ‘duck and cover’ drills during the Cold War. Pearl would have remembered viruses like mumps, measles, and polio spreading like wildfire before vaccines became available to her children in the 1960s. If Pearl’s family could have a memorial service for her, a relative would likely give a eulogy naming events that marked Pearl’s life. As humans, our regular ‘everyday neighbourhood walk’ kind of lives get significantly marked by some larger historical or personal events sprinkled in along the way. This got me thinking about what the noticeable markings of my life will be; the ones that might make it onto the papers of my eulogy someday?
I’ll always remember living during the COVID19 pandemic. And come to think of it, I have no doubt that this pandemic is one of the events that will mark any of us old enough to form memories and may even be something mentioned as a time marker in our eulogies in the years that follow. We will likely recall with humour and disbelief the Costco lineups, low gas prices, Dr. Bonnie Henry (and her cool shoes), and the daily 7 pm riot of pots, pans, and sirens. And then, if vulnerability and emotional energy allow, we will also remember and likely shed a tear thinking about how COVID19 resulted in people dying alone and leaving family without a final goodbye or the usual ways to grieve together. We will remember the pictures of people saying hello, I love you, and goodbye, on opposite sides of a glass window. The images, stories, and memories from the last six weeks have indeed marked us. In the same way, life events like deaths, births, weddings, divorces, graduations, and career changes, also mark us in unique ways.
If my eulogy were to be written, you may find mention of significant historical events that happened during my lifetime, like 9-11 and this current pandemic. Also included would be some mention of personal events like career or educational accomplishments, living in 3 different provinces, my marriage and children, and how the death of my father marked me deeply. However, there is something I hope and pray stands out as the thing that has marked me the most. You may have guessed where I am going here. Believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the primary marker of my life. In fact, all Christians ARE, by definition, marked by this historical event even though we were not alive during it. It was an event that marked us once for eternity when God saved us through it, AND it will shape all other markings if we are willing. Everything else we experience needs to be sorted, understood, and responded to using the indelible marking of Christ and His word as our filter.
Doing this with the events in our lives, in a biblical, gospel-centred way doesn’t happen accidentally. In fact, it takes intentional effort and discipline. Hebrews 12:1-2 teaches us that we need to “…run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” Running and fixing take intentional practise, effort, and discipline. This week I have been studying Hebrews 11; the “hall of faith” chapter. The writer points back in history from creation to the New Testament believers at the time, recounting their faith and pointing them, and us, to the object of it. Looking back is something the writers of the New Testament often did as a way to fix people’s eyes on Jesus. They work hard at reminding readers that Christ’s death and resurrection are significant because of the promises made in the Old Testament. This past event that ensures our salvation should inform how we are marked by everything else that comes our way.
What if we, as Christians, make it an intentional habit to consider every event in light of the mark that matters most? How we sort, understand, and respond to these historical and personal events in our lives would then be shaped by our Christian faith and our lives would be marked by them in a way that is different from the world. For me, declaring and considering true statements about God, rooted in scripture, will be how I choose to let this pandemic mark me. I know that God is sovereign and in control. I know that God loves me. I know that God works all things for His purpose. I know His purpose is good. I know that even when I don’t understand what God is doing, He is still God and He is still good. I know that God’s plan includes a way for me to be saved from death no matter what occurs on earth. And repeat. I know that God is sovereign… (Job 42:2, Ps 135:6, Isa 45:7-9, 46:9-10, John 3:16, Rom 6:23, 8:28, 2 Cor 5:21, Eph 1:11, and Col 1:16-17 are just a few examples of scripture that have taught me these truths.)
As you maintain the social distance rules and spend hours and hours at home, I want to encourage you to consider your COVID19 experience and how it has marked you. How do you hope it will mark you? Are you filtering this experience through the knowledge of the gospel and Biblical truths? Are you responding to COVID19 in a way that demonstrates your faith in God’s sovereignty? Years later, will you remember this time marked by intense fear and worry? Will you remember sleepless nights and ongoing frustration with your circumstances? Or, will you remember how your faith was challenged and strengthened as you intentionally run the race and fix your eyes on Jesus?
If my eulogy gives a timeline of my life and the COVID19 pandemic is included as a marker, that will be ok. But what I truly hope is that my eulogy communicates to listeners a life that was firstly and firmly marked by Jesus, and that any other events, because of Him, only served to mark me more like Him.