Last Breath – Finding Joy today because of an eternal perpsective

I had a great aunt who enjoyed life more than most people.  She was a cook at large conference center on the coast of California, tucked away in the giant redwood trees. She lived with her sister, my grandma, and every summer we’d go there for a week’s vacation.  The smell of redwood, cinnamon roles, and bacon, became synonymous for bliss, as this was a place of rest, safety, beauty.  She and her sister loved life, loved us, and loved Jesus. Simply by serving and loving others, they sowed seeds of joy and service in lots people, including me, that are still multiplying around the world.

All good things come to an end though.  They retired and moved away from the conference center.  My grandma died shortly after the move.  Then, a few years later my aunt followed her.  My aunt’s death though, was remarkable….

Having slipped into some sort of coma for a few weeks prior to her death, on the last day of her life she woke up, alert, lucid, and (as the story was related to me) full of good cheer.  She called her family members into the room and blessed them, one by one, like Jacob blessed his sons before he died way back in Genesis 49.  Then she talked about the joy she’d known in her life because of walking with Jesus, and then she said this:

“So my time has come to be with Him.  I can see Him coming for me now, and He’s beautiful.  Good bye.” Then she closed her eyes and died.

Hallucination or some other mysterious chemical reaction?  Maybe.  I choose to believe she saw Jesus.

I share this because of a little phrase in Psalm 94:19 which reads, “when my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul”.  The “consolations” of God have to do with the comfort of God’s nurturing presence in our lives, and it’s that nurturing presence which what God promises us during days of anxiety. To put it another way:

Anxious thoughts will happen. The world in which we live is anxiety inducing.  We’re overwhelmed by decisions, challenged by broken bodies, abused by people with power, victimized by unjust treatment, challenged by loss, and o so much more.  In a way it’s liberating to know that all of anxiety inducing events are, and will be, part of our story, to know that Christ followers aren’t granted magical immunity.

I wish all believers believed this, but I don’t think they do.  As a result, when bad things happen to good people, there’s sometimes a double anxiety.  There’s the thing itself, whatever it is that’s happened to us, and there’s the second does of anxiety that comes from wondering how we’ve failed God, because we’d wrongly believed that our faith would protect us from suffering.  Nope.  From Joseph’s unjust imprisonment in Genesis, to Paul’s, “we despaired even of life” in II Corinthians 1, the truth of it is that our lives are filled with grace and beauty, along with trials and sufferings.  Knowing this frees us to discover the great promise that’s offered us in the midst of our anxieties:

God offers us the comfort of God’s presence.  God doesn’t always “fix” things, though that’s what we like.  Instead we’re invited to rest in the arms of Jesus, finding comfort from the one who is well able to say “I understand” because He too suffered all things in all ways.  There, in the arms of Christ, we find “consolations”.   It might be an unfortunate word in the English language, because we think of consolation prize, as if it’s the ‘next best thing’.

That’s our limited perspective.  My aunt’s experience, and the experience of others down through the ages, has led me to believe that the presence of Christ isn’t the consolation prize, but the point of it all.  Christ is after all, our friend, lover, bridegroom, the one with whom we’ll be united for all eternity.  It turns out, then, that trials can, if we’ll let them, reposition our entire being towards Christ so that we’re looking to Him for the comfort of His presence.

Positioned for Eternity.   Everyone who moves from this present life into eternity does so alone.  “You can’t take it with you” isn’t just a trite saying.  It’s true.  This really does put things in perspective.  Another saying in our world is “don’t sweat the small stuff” to which this eternal perspective might add, “and it’s all small stuff”.  Here we are, all worked up over “what shall eat?, what shall we drink?, how are our March Madness Brackets doing?”  etc etc.  It’s appropriate to deal with things as they arise, important to care.  But down at the bottom, beneath our fury of schedule, goals, and striving, there’s One waiting for us to rest in His arms.  Learning to do so before my dying breath will, I think, infuse my daily living with a joy and peace that only blossom through an eternal perspective.

I welcome your thoughts….



About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Jenny Sorensen

    Thank you Richard. This is a well timed word for my life.

  • Tim Thurman

    I always find there is a tension between living with the eternal perspective but still being fully present in the here and now. I wonder if we live to much in the “eternal perspective” we lose sight of the joys and fail to deal with the pain that is in our life right now. On the other hand, if we live too much focused on our current circumstances…it can be very depressing. Perhaps, we are supposed to shift back and forth?

  • Marla

    I agree. It is hard to find a balance of knowing when to live in the now and when to live with an “eternal perspective.” Or is living with an “eternal perspective” a way to deal with the pain in our lives and yet the joys will always shine through no matter what perspective we have?