I have shared on different occasions through a variety of media that one of the most formative occurrences of my life was the loss of my younger brother to leukemia when I was 12 years old. My adolescence was shaped by this painful intrusion of death into my immediate family. Years later, I would face my own mortality as I battled cancer myself. Both of these experiences have given me a certain outlook on life I might not have had otherwise.
Not that I do not ever get anxious or upset about circumstances, but I find myself able to achieve some peace by asking myself a question many would find morbid: “If I were on my deathbed right now, would this matter anymore?” Like I said, some would find this a morose approach, but it helps me prioritize things of import over those that will fade. I use this “deathbed philosophy” to calm myself down about things ranging from loss of material items to conflicts with certain people. It’s similar to saying “this too shall pass.”
As I write this, we are facing an uncertain future and collective anxiety I can only compare to the days immediately following 9/11. The threat of the COVID-19 virus has caused global concern and experts tell us the worst is yet to come. All of this is leading many people who would otherwise shun my deathbed philosophy to seriously consider what really matters in their lives. We may all share some apprehension about basic needs such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but I expect the greatest concerns are over our loved ones. I do not enjoy being socially distant from my family and friends. My little coping mechanism only goes so far. It gives me perspective, but there are times I need much more.
This coming Sunday, the Common Lectionary leads us to look at one of the most well-known Scriptures we have…Psalm 23. Within it we find the words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” This may resonate with us strongly over the next few months. The source of our comfort, however, is not shallow bravado but rather the words that follow: “For Thou art with me.”
The Message reads: “Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.” We are not alone. We are given courage by our faith in the very real presence of God to see us through this. This is what gives me a “peace that transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7) that guards my heart and mind. As we eventually emerge from our self-quarantine and seek normalcy, I hope any priority shifts you may be experiencing now do not fade along with the crisis. May goodness and mercy and love follow you the rest of your days until we dwell in the House of the Lord forever.