“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” So goes Jesus’ words from this week’s gospel reading (John 12:24).
Death is not something that we like to talk about. It is painful. It brings with it waves of grief and heartache. It feels…just so…final.
It strikes me, however, that all of life is a series of small deaths — deaths that shape and mold us. Such deaths aren’t always bad and could even be a gift, if we see them the right way.
When we look at a newborn child we may see endless potential and say things like, “Little one, you can be whatever you put your mind to and whatever you want to be.” We mean well, but this is hardly the case. Genetics are real. Talent and predisposition are just a fact of life. Opportunities are not equal.
One of the first deaths that I vividly remember was the death of my athletic career. All through elementary and middle school, I was pretty sure that I was going to play professional sports. I wasn’t sure which one, but it was going to happen. That is, until I realized that I was not anywhere close to the best football, basketball, or baseball player in my school — much less in the city, state, or nation.
When I got glasses, my dreams of being a fighter pilot and an astronaut came to an abrupt end. Remember, this was before the time of LASIK surgery and any other option was way out of my price range. That dream went down hard.
When I messed up my knee in high school, I was told by a Marine recruiter that I would likely not pass the entrance physical and should think about a different career path. When I got married, I died to the life of singleness. When my first child was born, I died to non-parenthood.
Jesus’ words, though, resound through the reality of those deaths, for each one also opened up incalculable opportunities for new life. As my athletic career came to an end, my music career flourished, opening up a full scholarship to college and the chance to play in symphonies and ensembles around the world. As my pilot/astronaut career came crashing down, I began experimenting with the power of words and my life as a writer began to bear fruit. I would never trade my current life as a husband and father for the man I was before.
As we emerge from this year of death, we will undoubtedly find that some things that we held dear will not come with us. Death has been a constant companion. While we certainly grieve the accompanying losses, I pray that we may also look for ways that letting go may prepare us for a new fruitfulness we would never have imagined twelve long months ago.