Now I want to start right off the bat by telling you to ignore the title. Well, I mean, it’s still important, but I don’t want to let you think I’m writing about death. I’ll get to what I mean in a moment.
So this may seem unbelievable to you, but in my high school years, I wasn’t very popular. And this may come as a real shock, but one of my favourite books I read as an unpopular white, male teen was The Catcher in the Rye. Shocker, I know.
The bit that always stood out to me was when one of the characters quoted William Stekel:
The mark of the mature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
As a teenager, this quotation was a great reminder that life is very long and while wanting to champion an important cause (whether it’s saving the world, ending poverty, or catching kids in the rye) is important, it’s easy to develop a martyrdom complex. Particularly as a teenager (although no less prevalent for many people in adulthood), you can lose yourself in yourself, focusing on how you can sacrifice your wellbeing for the greater good. You want your life to be defined in its entirety, so you envision what it would be like to die nobly for something truly noble.
Now, as a Christian the idea of martyrdom is one that is taught as early as Sunday school. I remember being taught that part of living in faith is being willing to die for that faith, just like Peter, Paul, and a ton of other persecuted Christians did. You’re taught to never deny Christ and embrace dying for Him as a noble cause.
Of course (most) churches would never encourage seeking out martyrdom, just that if it comes to you to not back down from it. I sometimes think of Ignatius of Antioch, who while being taken to Rome to be devoured by beasts, wrote to his followers that they were shouldn’t try to rescue him because it would make it “very difficult for [him] to attain unto God.”
Although it’s doubtful that Ignatius had a martyrdom complex that was so severe he thought not being able to die for Christ would ruin his chances of getting into heaven, there is enough evidence that he was perhaps a bit too eager to die just like Christ. And there’s danger in being too focused on your death than on the life you have left.
So how is it that Christians should live? Well, that question is broad enough that it would take minimum at least 33 scriptures to start to address it. But in terms of living life in the light of Christ’s (and many other Christian’s) sacrifices, we have to live in such a way that we are not too attached to this world, but also still be grounded enough to know the importance of the time we have here. We have to live like we’re ready to die.
And I don’t mean that in a “Live every day like it’s your last” (#YOLO) kind of way. I mean that the knowledge of God’s Kingdom which awaits us after death should enrich and fill our lives. If the mature man can live humbly for a cause, then the godly women and men should live humbly and nobly for Christ in the light of his life, death, and resurrection.
So what does this look like? When I think about the idea of living like you’re ready to die, I think of my mom.
I’m gonna stop myself right now, though, because this is not the way I ever want to introduce my mom. I can even imagine her reading this right now thinking: “Well, that’s morbid! Why would he think of me like that?” Hang on, mom, I’ll try and explain.
When I think about my mom, the thing that stands out to me how present she always is. Whenever I talk to her, there’s always this sense of being there in the moment, that she’s 100% with you. It’s hard to explain, but being with my mom is always a wonderful reminder to myself of slowing down and appreciating what I’m experiencing. Even when someone in the family is having a hard time or struggling with a difficult issue, my mom has a way of reminding me without words to focus on where God has brought us.
One of the greatest things about my mom is she has a policy to never, ever go to bed angry.
When I was a kid, anytime I got in trouble, said something inappropriate, or did something mean to my brother, she would always come to my room right before bedtime to make sure I knew how much I was loved and how she could never stay mad at me. She would do this when she felt she or I had gotten to upset over something, or when whatever it was didn’t seem like that big a deal.
She knew how important it was to communicate, to make sure we both we’re on the same page. And not just “He’ll understand later” or “We’ll talk in the morning.” She believed the best time to be open with someone was always now.
Again, it’s hard to explain, but my mom has always reminded me of the value of living. She’s not one of those carpe diem let’s go gung-ho zealous-to-the-max kinda people. It’s actually because she’s so subdued that she reminds me to appreciate the present and to work to improve it and be there for all those who are in it with me.
My mom has had more than a fair share of difficulties in her life, from health issues, to loss and grief, to her son writing about her on the internet without her knowledge. And she’s not perfect (again, sorry mom), but she’s always been determined to improve upon her faith, to learn more about how to live like Christ, and to love those around her while still taking care of herself. She’s always been my biggest support as well as a personal hero of mine. She lives humbly, doesn’t like making a big fuss or putting attention of herself, but still possess a noble, unwavering commitment towards love and life.
So again, when I think of what it means to live life in the light of Christ, I think of living in the present moment and how my mom lives for the people around her, the presence of God, and the promises He’s given.
I had a professor at university loved to quote George Grant quoting Virgil: Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore, which Grant translates as “They were holding their arms outstretched in love the farther shore” (my translation is a bit different, but whatever). The line refers to the living reaching towards their loved ones who have already passed into Hades. Grant and my professor interpreted this line as a reminder of the way Christians are to live here on Earth while awaiting the fullness of the Kingdom. We are to stand firmly planted here, but stretch out our arms in love towards the life that is to come.
And this is a great, academic, hoighty-toighty quotation to put in an essay, paint on your wall, or tattoo on your forearm. But personally, just being reminded of my own parents, and how present and supportive they’ve been of me is enough. They remind me to live in the now, to admit when you don’t have everything together (which is always), and to live like you’re ready to… well… to always live ready. Ready to embrace, with arms outstretched, the life we have and the life to come.