The dying words of St. John Paul II were, “Let me go to the house of my Father.” Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that what you want to be saying when you die?
St. Thérèse died whispering, “My God! I love you!”
Even George Washington muttered, “Tis well” — a testament to his confidence in God — as he took his last breath.
I’m fairly certain my dying words will be, “Just get out of the way. I’ll do it myself.”
These were the words I spat at my husband who arrived home from work one afternoon in February to find me yanking down Christmas lights from the front porch roof. Our house looked beautiful during the Christmas holidays — multicolored lights around the windows, glowing snowflakes in the garden, shimmering icicles in the weeping cherry tree. This display came courtesy of our three adult children, who insisted it would be Scrooge-like to have only an indoor tree, which was all the decorating I planned to do.
I knew what would happen. It happens every year. My 20-somethings, still living at home, mope and pout that the house is not festive enough, and that (pushing just the right buttons) outdoor decorations should be a modern-day star of Bethlehem, guiding wise men to the place where Baby Jesus lies in the mangers of our hearts. Sigh.
So I concede that they can decorate the yard. Oh, yes, and here’s my bank card to buy more lights and extension cords. Make it glorious, befitting the holiness of the occasion! But on one condition — you have to take it down and put it away right after Epiphany.
Every year I am burned.
It never changes. And I dive into the martyr’s role, feeling mighty sorry for myself as I disassemble Christmas, or wash dishes after their friends stop by for an impromptu party, or feed the cat despite promises to take care of it, if only they could have it.
If only they would consider my feelings. If only I could make them see how unfair they are being. If only they would love me enough to …
And this is the thought that stops me cold:
If only you would attend to my commandments, your peace would be like a river, your vindication like the waves of the sea, your descendants like the sand, the offspring of your loins like its grains, their name never cut off or blotted out from my presence. (Isaiah 48:18–19)
Our God cries this, too, but his pity is not for himself. His lament is for us and what we lose when we disobey him. Beneath my words, my children can hear me saying, “Obey me so I won’t have to suffer.” But what God says is, “Obey me so you won’t have to suffer.” Not only that, but he promises peace, vindication, and posterity, in addition to our permanent place in his holy presence. He promises this to us and to our children, if only we would listen when he speaks.
All I can promise in exchange for the obedience of my children is that they won’t have to live with my self-righteous spite. And when God said, “I’ll do it myself,” he generously became man and took our sins to the Cross.
I’m taking down the Christmas decorations in time for Lent, and maybe that’s fitting. I’m putting away the lights and the festivities to examine the darkness in my life. If only I were more patient. If only I were more generous. If only I were less selfish, less controlling, less anxious. I’m grateful for this season when I can think about these things while wrapped in the mercy of God’s promises. How wise the Church is to place Lent so soon after Christmas, when we’re still awed by the enormous love our Father has for us, who says to us without bitterness, “I’ll do it myself.”
Among his last words, Jesus said, “Forgive them.”
If only I would take these things to heart, maybe I wouldn’t be so worried about what I might blurt out as I leave this world.