What We Can’t Control, Thank God (335)

The Broadway musical, Hamilton, is the story of the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton. The musical ends with a mournful, chilling song that asks this question “Who gets to tell your story?” with these lyrics:
But when you’re gone,
Who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story?

St. Benedict wrote in the Rule of Life for his monks: “Keep your own death before your eyes each day.” In writing this, St. Benedict wasn’t being morbid. He had no unhealthy fascination with death. For St. Benedict, keeping one’s death before one’s eyes was all about humility because death levels everything for us. It comes to all of us and as the old saying goes: you can’t take anything with you when you’re gone. This reality humbles us (or at least it should). It can help us in our learning to depend radically on God’s grace alone. By keeping our deaths before us, we’re nudged into a more spiritually healthy place where we must recognize (eventually) that we’re not in control of everything around us; that as our Burial Office in the Book of Common Prayer says:
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

I try to remind myself (at least) weekly that I’m the 10th Bishop of Georgia. There was a 9th and there’ll be an 11th. I’m just the steward of this holy office for the time being. In other words, bishops come and bishops go. Some part of God’s Kingdom will come a little bit closer because of my ministry as bishop. Some will remain distant. I’ll at times succeed in being the bishop God has called me to be, but often I’ll also fail miserably to live into that calling. If there’s a story of my life or of anyone’s life who trusts in Jesus and his Cross, then it’s a story that’s but a footnote to that one, great, and true story.

Rather than hamstringing us or leading us toward spiritual apathy, this practice of keeping our deaths before us is, actually, liberating. It frees us from being held captive by the future, which we can’t control. It helps us release the stranglehold we so often keep on our lives thinking we can control every future outcome (which we must know we can’t). Thus, it opens us up to the possibility of the present, whatever is before us today, so that we may experience the action of God’s grace right in front of us.

We should look to the future, plan for tomorrow, save for retirement (contribute to your IRA!), etc., but we also should learn to be content with the day God has given us. When such contentment comes, our anxieties will take a back seat. That’s when there’s room daily for God’s grace to convert us.