WE ARE FINITE…YET INFINITE
Mar 22, 2021
By The Rev. Dr. David Elseroad, LMFT, LCC Pastoral Counselor
“Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” John Donne’s oft-cited verse came to mind, striking like a lightning bolt of terror. It was mid-November. COVID-19 had infected both my wife and me; ‘assaulted’ would be the better word. Days, then weeks of raging fever, torturous aches, fatigue, chills and night sweats, and a persistent, worsening cough laid low body and spirit. Would we have to be hospitalized? Would we be placed on a ventilator? Could this possibly be the end? Like a dull thud, this anxious uncertainty before the specter of death left us stunned, shaken, an illness all its own.
“Death and taxes,” we are told, neither can be avoided. But we try. The only certainty in anyone’s life is that it will end. Death is inevitable, universal, but we don’t want to talk about it or even think about it. We skirt around it with our euphemisms (“so-and-so passed away”), our morbid humor that triggers nervous laughter, ghost stories, t-shirts and hoodies brandishing ‘skull and crossbones’, and horror movies.
We shy away from the idea of death because we dread it. We fear its unknowns---how we will die, the separation it brings and its apparent finality, what lies beyond. In times past, people usually died at home, surrounded by their families. With people dying in hospitals or nursing homes, death is out of sight, and that helps us keep it out of mind. We mourn the “passing” of another, but of our own inevitable end, we try to think little and say less. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been challenging this reticence. The daily televised count of the millions dead worldwide; loved ones dying alone, deprived of family presence; and the fears that we could be the next victim all bring death front and center.
Realizing that our life is but “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14) can bring a flood of daunting emotions and turmoil. Death—“my death”—underlies much of the anxiety and depression we experience. People equate death—and aging in this youth-idolizing culture—with failure, steeped in doom and gloom. But knowing that we’ll reach the endpoint of death, this boundary that rounds out a life, can be energizing. It can trigger a look back, a probing “life review” of what was done and left undone, sorting out final acceptance and fulfillment. And it can motivate making the best of life left to us. That means living our best life now—every day, as if it were our last: telling that special someone “I love you”--today, not putting it off until tomorrow; hugging your kids; tackling your bucket list; putting affairs in order, healing old wounds, repairing broken relationships. We can move to a new measure of acceptance and equanimity in facing our death.
Through death, Christ destroyed the power of death to deliver “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-5). Death, the final enemy—the final affliction through which God works all things for the good—becomes death the threshold through which we pass from the finite to the infinite of resurrection life. Life is a gift, and the One who gives it will give it infinitely. This is the assurance that calms our mortal fears, the Word of promise to which we cling. It is a healing all its own. Is one’s mortality an appropriate concern for work with a counselor? Why not? It is a “diagnosis” we all share. We can learn to look on death with acceptance, counting all this finite as “loss for the good” of the infinite that awaits us.
Dr. Elseroad counsels teens, adults, couples and families. For an appointment with any of our counselors or for more information, call LCC at 1-800-317-1173. For safety, all sessions are currently provided using a secure, HIPAA compliant virtual video and/or audio platform.