You’ve probably noticed. Each new year brings more change.
My knees hurt a little more going up the stairs, my daughter is going to parties with girls and boys, and my son now uses the word “dude,” a little too much if you ask me. The “baby” in the family is now 10, and she gave away her plastic kitchen set years ago; there are no more “blankys” or conversations with dolls.
Time goes by, and it’s not easy.
That reality hits me even harder when I look at my parents. My dad and I took a walk last week. We hiked up through some trees on my grandpa’s farm and then down toward the creek. He had a walking stick, and each step was careful. Whenever he came to a steep hill or a ditch, I found myself standing nearby, ready to catch him if he fell. He smiled the whole way, proud to be out again, walking after his back surgery. This is the man who was invited to try out for the Boston Red Sox. He used to take me down in wrestling and beat me racing to the mailbox. He’s probably reading this and thinking to himself, “I probably still can.” Think again Dad. He shouldn’t be playing tennis anymore, but he still does, and he comes home pretty wiped out. Watching my parents get older makes me think about time. It makes me think about saying goodbye to them when they go and saying goodbye to my kids when I go. Honestly, it makes me a little anxious.
To add to the heaviness, much of my Christmas break has been spent grading papers about Euthanasia. It’s my own fault. I gave my students the topic. It seemed to fit with Of Mice and Men, a book highlighted by a couple of scenes when life is taken away to avoid suffering later. The kids in my class struggle with those scenes. Tears even come. Then I struggle when I hand out two pieces of writing that I know will shake them up even more. One is an article by Brittany Maynard. She was 29, facing a difficult end to a battle with cancer, and she explained why the suffering coming made her want to leave before it came. The other piece of writing is a letter to Maynard from Kara Tippetts. She pleaded with Maynard to not end her life early, writing about the beauty that comes in the last moments. We talked about it in class. During 7th period, Grace raised her hand. Her face expressed the heaviness we all felt. I called on her, and she was almost whispering: “Death scares me. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. I mean, do we keep living or is this all there is?” Her honesty was beautiful. And I get it. Opening that door of our limited time here on earth usually means facing the fear lurking on the other side. A few more hands went up with more questions. Sam asked why I was making them write about something so heavy. I told all of them that facing death, especially as teenagers, is actually healthy. Too many of us pretend we’re going to live forever and never ask questions like the ones Grace asked. The bell was about to ring, and I smiled as I said to them, “Well, have a great day!” As they reached for their backpacks, I got a few weary smiles and chuckles, but most of them were shaking their heads.
Last Saturday night, we asked David, my son, if he was comfortable leading our family in doing church at home. With a little sheepish 7th-grade grin, he said “yes.” The next morning, with eagerness in his voice, he gathered the family. Some took a little more time to be gathered than others, but we eventually made it. Then, cuddled up on the couch in our pajamas, he had us read about Simeon, a man who met Jesus a few days after His birth. One verse really jumped out at me: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace” (Luke 2:29). Simeon probably spent much of his life waiting and looking for the One who would be called Emmanuel, God with us, the One God promised he would see before he died. When that day finally came, filled with joy, he told God that He could now “dismiss his servant in peace”. That’s how he saw death.
“Dismissal,” in a teacher’s mind, is the joy of every student. When that bell rings, kids run into the halls ready for home, for friends, for food, for whatever waits beyond the classroom door. Seeing death like that, like being dismissed from class, makes sense. In fact, it may be God was using David to do a little work on my anxious heart. I didn’t ask him to share those verses, but they spoke to me about something God knew was weighing me down.
Christians facing death, or any changes in life, can have peace. There is a God who always has something good waiting for us around the next bend, even on the other side of death. Having that peace is what makes us different.
On the night when the angels appeared to the shepherds in that dark field outside of Bethlehem, they filled the sky with light and shouted into the darkness that there would be “peace on earth on whom God’s favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Bells will ring in life for us to move on from healthy knees to achy ones, from plastic kitchen sets to “dude” and from parents who can take us down in wrestling to parents who could use a little help on walks through the pasture. Eventually, a bell will ring for us to say goodbye and leave this “classroom” we call life, but that bell brings a peaceful dismissal for those who know God loves them. There are friends waiting, feasts to be eaten and a home to enjoy that is much better than anything this world can offer. As the changes come, God has good plans for us. Simeon rested in that, and if we can look for Jesus like he did, trusting He loves us, we can rest in that truth too.
Erin teaches English at Doherty High School, and he and his family attend Pulpit Rock. Read more from Erin on his blog where he writes about seeing God in the public school classroom and in the every day.
Erin Ahnfeldt is a high school English teacher who is constantly challenged by the