Dying Before We Die
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12::24
The concept of dying before we die has nothing to do with unreasonably hastening our physical death. Rather, it has to do with recognizing and becoming more familiar and comfortable with the fact that death is a regular, common, and necessary part of this life. It requires a significant expansion of what we consider death and rebirth in order to understand our ever-present nearness to death. Indeed, much of what I have written in this series of reflections is intended to do just that – remind us of how intimately death is already woven into our lives and how death, as in annihilation, never has the final word. The more we recognize and accept the numerous deaths and rebirths occurring in our lives, the more prepared and comfortable we will be as we face the end of this life as we know it – and the rebirth into whatever lies ahead.
I will reiterate my disclaimer that I am not, to my knowledge, in a state of being near to death at this time. If I were I might feel differently. Except for my limited exposure to a handful of loved ones as they neared death, my experience with physical death is non-existent. Although I have read much of what the Bible and other texts say of death, I am far from an expert. Death and dying, however, are topics that have commanded a lot of my mental bandwidth for much of my life. Perhaps I am morbid; or perhaps I have developed insights that might be helpful to others. It is in the spirit of the latter hope that I continue with this topic. I am certain I am not 100% correct about anything; I am equally certain I am not 100% mistaken, either. My goal is not to convince anyone. My goal is to open a discussion about the nearness of death – the little deaths we experience daily and the big death awaiting us all – and to help us become more comfortable with the reality.
One of the quickest cycles of birth and death is breathing – letting go of the breath we just held in our body, knowing it will never return as it was, and welcoming a new breath. Breathing in a conscious way can be a helpful exercise. Saying goodbye to each day as we lay down to sleep, expressing gratitude for the blessings it wrought, reviewing the lessons of what could be done better, is also a good practice. We cannot see the constant deaths and rebirths occurring at the cellular level in our bodies, but all of our cells die and are reborn every seven or so years. Without that necessary cycle of life and death, none of us would live into adolescence. Whether we wish to observe our deaths in seconds, hours, days, months, or years in order to convince ourselves that death is an inseparable part of life, we must recognize that we die and are reborn countless times in whatever time is allotted to us on this earth. It is a natural rhythm that has existed since the dawn of creation. Animals, plants, mountains, rocks, planets, and stars are all subject to the same cycle of birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth.
In today’s scripture, Jesus provides an astute insight into the benefits of dying before we die. He uses a grain of wheat as an example. If a grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die, i.e., allow itself to be reborn into something new, it will remain a single grain of wheat. Its component parts will eventually break down and fall back into the earth to be recycled into something else. A grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies is transformed into a stock of wheat, however, producing many more grains of wheat, all of which are offspring of the original grain. We do not die for the sake of dying. We die for the sake of growing into something new.
Dying before we die is about consciously letting go of that in our lives which no longer serves a useful purpose and is holding us back. It might be cleaning out a closet or learning healthier habits of being. We can either wait until whatever needs to die is forcibly removed from us, or we can let go now – dying before we die – with intention and purpose. The latter option allows us to be co-creators with God in growing into the next phase of our life.
This is the 31st in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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