Learning to Die Before Living with Delight

Elderly Man Looking Up

It was August 1994. The couple entered the neurologist’s office. An uncomfortable silence settled on the room. The doctor explained that Morrie had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a brutal, unforgiving illness of the neurological system for which there is no known cure . . . and yes, it’s terminal. After asking questions for two hours, Morrie and Charlotte left the doctor’s office.

In 1997, one of the best-selling books of the past fifteen years was released, titled Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. Morrie Schwartz (the old man) was a highly respected sociologist, professor, and author who loved and laughed his way through life. As the vicious forces of ALS attacked his body, he had one last pursuit: He would meet with one of his previous students, Mitch Albom (the young man), for ten weeks; the subject of their conversations would be the meaning of life. Mitch decided on some of the topics to be discussed—aging, fear, greed, regrets—while Morrie provided timeless wisdom that ended up changing Mitch’s life and the lives of many others who read the book.

One particular week, the topic dealt with perspective.

“The truth is, Mitch,” [Morrie] said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. . . . Most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking.”

[Mitch asked,] “And facing death changes all that?”

“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.” . . . He nodded toward the window with the sunshine streaming in. “You see that? You can go out there, outside, anytime. You can run up and down the block and go crazy. I can’t do that. I can’t go out. I can’t run. I can’t be out there without fear of getting sick. But you know what? I appreciate that window more than you do. . . . I look out that window every day. I notice the change in the trees, how strong the wind is blowing. It’s as if I can see time actually passing through that window-pane. Because I know my time is almost done, I am drawn to nature like I’m seeing it for the first time.”[ref]Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson (New York: Broadway Books, 1997), 82–84.[/ref]

That looks a lot like awakening to true life. Often we spend so little time and energy on the things that would wake us up to seeing life through new eyes. You and I have the choice to be awakened, just as Morrie was, because all people are living with a terminal disease. Last I checked, 100 percent of the population will die. But does that mean we cave in when challenges come? Many do and miss the freedom of experiencing the richly colorful vicissitudes our Creator offers us every moment.

When my son was diagnosed with his many disabilities, then regressed, and was diagnosed with even more disabilities, a dreary shade covered my eyes. I felt ripped off—as though life had chained me to the challenges forever. Drenched in disappointment, when I read Bible passages about freedom, blessing, rest, and joy, I felt not peace but anger. Why? Because I had not yet learned what these verses were teaching . . . that in order to have true life I had die to myself, to my own dreams and plans. At that time, such truths just didn’t seem to connect with my life because I had not learned to let go, to turn and look in another direction, to get the right perspective.

Mark 8:35 states: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (NIV).

Please believe me: Jesus Christ offers you the greatest freedom, but as Mitch learned from Morrie, you have to learn how to die in order to learn how to live.

Help us to see that living in freedom comes by trusting in You and Your promises of eternal wholeness.