“Today, you are going to die.”
My eyes opened wide and my head shot up. Looks of shock and horror filled the face of each person in the room. No. She didn’t say that, did she? I heard wrong. But we all must have heard wrong. No, I heard correctly. I was going to die that day. The woman at the front of the classroom had let out a string of words that sobered a room full of energetic young adults.
The woman took in our expressions. It was clear that our reactions were exactly the kind she wanted. I glanced at the girl to my left to confirm what I had heard. A jaw hanging to the ground and another set of wide-open eyes confirmed my fear.
The woman moved. A giant bag sat next to the desk and she stepped closer to place her hand inside. I broke into a sweat. What is in that bag?
The woman looked up and met my gaze as she spoke loudly to her audience.
“Death is the last new thing you will ever experience.”
A quote from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan came racing into my mind in an effort to calm my nerves. To die would be an awfully big adventure. Yeah, an adventure. I like adventures.
“Take a minute and prepare yourselves for what I’m about to do. You are all going to experience death.”
Prepare myself? Wait. I was already prepared. I’m a Christian and going to heaven. You’ll have to do better than that, lady. Just then, her hand came out from the giant bag. A nervous chill shot down my back and my eyes shut in a wince. When I didn’t feel a blow or hear a shot, I opened one eye to see what had been placed directly in front of me. Paper. Plain white paper that had been shredded into exactly twelve pieces.
“Write down twelve things that have the most meaning to you.”
Confused, I began writing. I listed three of my own character qualities, three items I treasured, three activities I liked and finally, three people I loved dearly. When I finished, the woman began telling a story.
“You have just been diagnosed with a terminal illness. You have six months to live. Tear up two pieces of paper.”
Finally realizing that I wasn’t going to really die, I tore up two pieces of paper. Car. Laptop. I lost two possessions.
“Two months have passed. You are starting to feel the pain of this illness. It is taking away your mobility. Tear up three pieces of paper.”
All right. I looked over my papers and tore up three more. Camera. Loyalty. Faithfulness. One possession and two qualities bit the dust.
“You have only two months left to live. You are living with your family while you remain stationary and in pain. Tear up two more.”
I looked over the remaining pieces of paper I had. Two pieces? This list of meaningful things was getting down to the stuff I really liked. I decided not to think about it too much and tore up two more. Love. Driving. One quality and one activity are done for.
“You have a month left to live. You are ready to give up. Your health is very poor and there is little you can still do. Tear up three more pieces of paper.”
Three pieces?! This is getting hard. Seeing as though the only pieces I had left contained activities and people, I chose carefully. The name of an old friend and two activities I liked were shredded in my hands. I saw the final two pieces before me. Both names held incredible meaning. I began to realize how this was like death. Before me were the only two things I had left.
“Turn over your final two pieces. Close your eyes. I am going to take one from you.”
No! I don’t want you to take anything from me! I felt angry and foolish all at once. It’s just paper, Rissa. But it wasn’t just paper. They had names of two people I loved written on them. It was like losing someone I loved. I didn’t like dying anymore. I quietly told myself to shut up and close my eyes.
A paper on the left and a paper on the right. I knew the name on each piece. As the woman walked by, I heard her scoop up one piece and tear it. All I wanted to do was open my eyes. I waited. And waited. Finally, the woman told us to open our eyes.
“I tore up one of your last two pieces of paper. That was you on your deathbed. I took away something from you that you were unable to control.”
That’s it. At the end of our lives, we all lose something in a way we can’t control. I’m down to that last piece. Huh, that was an interesting game. I thought we were done.
“Turn over your final piece of paper and read it.”
I wasn’t sure what this woman was getting at now, but I did as I was told. I read my last piece of paper letter by letter. E-r-i-n. The name of one of my best friends.
“Tear it up.”
I looked up at the woman with a shocked expression. I could handle her taking something away from me, but now she asked me to rid myself of what I had been trying to hang on to until the end. I looked down at the name of my dear friend.
Suddenly, I got it. This is what it’s like to die. I slowly tore the paper straight down the middle and wiped away a tear from the corner of my eye.
It may be easy to give up a few not-so-important things while I am on my way out. It starts to become harder when I have things taken from me. But at the very end, I have to make the hardest decision of all. I have to choose to let go.
While Jesus Christ hung on the cross for my sin, He chose to let go. He gave up His physical condition to be beaten and torn. The Father’s gaze was taken from Him. His choice was to let go of Himself to die for me. The One who spoke the world into existence chose to die for the only thing that separated Him from His creation. Out of love, He died for my heart. My sinful, wicked heart kept me from experiencing new life in Christ. I was without a way to really know God and to spend an eternity in heaven. I was a selfish human giving no thought to my Creator. But as Christ cried “It is finished.”, my sin was no longer a barrier. Through His choice to die, Christ gave me a choice as well. The heart He died for can be consecrated to Him for a life of undeserved blessing, or it can remain a sinful heart with no future hope. I remember the day I made my choice. I chose to surrender my sinful heart and die to my own flesh. Because of this, I have new life in Christ.
Only my God can turn death into life. Real, everlasting, wonderful life.
It’s time to make your choice.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.