The mysteries of life

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The 6-year-old boy sat buckled in the back seat of my car.

"I have to go to the funeral home tonight," I said.

"Who died?" he asked. I told him the name of the person.

"Why did he die? Do we all have to die?"

After answering his questions the best I could, I pondered those mysteries of life.

Although the processes of life and death are difficult to understand, if you're Christian, you know there's reason behind them. One often thinks there could have been a better way of handling the procession from young to old, from vibrant life to death, from failure to success or even from success to failure. Why do we have to suffer first?

God understands our questioning of his plans. If we read the Book of Psalms, we see that people felt free to be themselves before God. They questioned, complained, cried, criticized and praised the holy one. Life has always been and still is an enigma.

It's even more strange when everything seems to be going backward, and then the seemingly impossible happens to make the situation turn out wonderful. The scenario could be something as common as a final exam being scheduled on an evening when the streets and roads are covered with ice and snow. The instructor questions if the students will venture out. She remembers there's a deadline for grades to be turned in to the university. She takes a deep breath, then walks in. The students file into the classroom gradually. The room keeps filling until all the class is present. The teacher raises her eyes upward and says, "Thank you, God. Only you could accomplish this feat." She realizes that nothing is too big or difficult for God -- another mystery.

Some say life is hard and that they brace themselves for what's coming. Others relax and assume the attitude that nothing bad will happen -- until it does.

If unfortunate things do happen, you are given the fortitude to get through whatever arises. "With God all things are possible." (Mark 10:27) Strength comes from doing that which is difficult. The harder the task or problem, the stronger mental and emotional muscle one develops. Just as you lift weights that are light at first, as you gain strength you can handle heavier weights. You become stronger.

The parent/child relationship is a testy one, especially when children are grown. Parents go from being the center of the child's life to a position less visible or prominent. When children marry, there are two families the couple must interact with.

Parents from both sides must learn to adjust to sharing their children with their spouses and their in-laws. The immediate family is no longer all together every holiday and special occasion. Even though you know life evolves that way and you have to accept the situation, you work to adjust. That, too, is another mystery of life. We wonder why God gives you those to love and then takes them away in one way or another.

I visited a funeral home recently where a priest led a prayer service for the deceased man. He explained that "our bodies are left behind, but we go to a better place. Those who leave this earth remain within our hearts so they will always be with us."

When I reached the wife of the deceased gentleman, I hugged her. She said one simple but complete word to me, "Life?" to explain it all. Christmas is the perfect time to remember that the baby who was born that day provided our hope that all those things we wonder about will be revealed eventually.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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