In July, I will enter my 30th year as the pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. In some ways, it seems like yesterday until I begin to remember all the people that I have had to say goodbye to because of their deaths. Death is part of life and is something that we all encounter. The waves of grief eventually roll upon the shores of all of our lives.
The last few years have been some of my hardest as significant individuals in my life have passed. For many of these individuals, I was with them as they took their last breath which is a very sacred moment. The God who gives us life is the same God who receives us in our deaths. I knew that at the moment of these individuals’ deaths that they were immediately in the presence of God which was reason to rejoice. Yet, I also knew they were gone from this earth and that I would no longer see them in my life. But at those moments I bury that grief within so as to minister to the family. The next few days are filled with visits with the family, funeral home visitation, and then the funeral. Yet, so often before I have time to reflect on their passing, church life moves on and me with it.
A few weeks ago, I performed the funeral of one of my closes friends at church. He was our last WWII veteran. He passed away at the age of 94. Because of the COVID-19 virus, the funeral was attended by one nephew, a representative of the funeral home, my daughter who videotaped the service, and myself. It was a graveside service in the pouring rain.
A week or so later, I carried my family’s 15-year-old dog, Annie, to put her to sleep as her health had deteriorated to a point that her life had little quality to it. My wife and two grown children told her goodbye in the car. The COVID-19 virus also meant that I would go in alone. I held Annie as the veterinarian did what was necessary to ease her pain and let her sleep. She died in my arms. The rest of the day was sad. I slept a lot when I went home as we had been up the night before with Annie.
The following day, as I drove home from church by myself, I suddenly burst into tears while crossing a bridge over the James River. I had not cried in a while for any of the close friends I had lost in the last few years. Annie’s death has triggered something in me that caused me to release a couple of years of stored up emotions. Hidden grief found a way to the surface. Finally, I felt like I could breathe.
Every breath we take in our lives is a gift of God’s grace. Indeed, when God created humanity the Bible teaches us that God put his breath into each of us. Without this breath we would have never been raised out of the dust that God created us from. In the book of Job, we read his confession, “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.” (Job 12:5) That’s why we should live in gratitude with the breath in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love.
If you are reading this today, then you have breath in your lungs. God has gifted you with another day. Take time now to give thanks to God for the breath that fills your lungs. Give thanks also for those individuals, living, and breathing, who bring joy into your daily life. And then give thanks to those who took their last breath and now breathe the clean, fresh air of eternity. The Psalmist would confess, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6) So, take a deep breath, give thanks to the Lord, and then go live this day for the glory of God.