erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

You’ve probably noticed—every year brings more change.

My knees hurt a little more going up the stairs, the baby in our family is now 15 (no longer playing with plastic kitchen sets or talking with dollies), my older kids are either already gone to college or are about to leave, and colleagues who have become friends eventually move on to something else in life.

Time goes by, and it’s not easy.

That reality hits even harder when I think about my parents. My dad and I took a walk last week. We hiked up through some trees on my grandpa’s farm and then up toward the old machinery.  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 outside walking and thankful to be with his son.  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 right now, thinking he can still beat me, but that’s my dad—owner of a childlike heart and a joy age could never snuff 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, my students and I recently read 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 struggled with those scenes. Tears even came.

The conversations continued when I gave them two other pieces of writing. One is an article by Brittany Maynard. She had cancer at 29, facing a horrible end to her life.  To her, a future of suffering justified ending her life early.  It’s a troubling look at life, so to offer a contrast, I also gave them a letter written by Kara Tippets, another woman with terminal cancer. In the letter, she pleads with Maynard to not end her life early, writing about the beauty that comes in our last days.

We talked about the articles in class. During 7th period, Grace raised her hand. Her face expressed the heaviness we all felt. I called on her, and she was whispering.

“Death scares me,” she said.  “Nobody knows what will 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 them that talking about 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.

“Well, have a great day!” I said awkwardly.  Ending class like that wasn’t ideal.

As they reached for their backpacks, I got a few weary smiles in return, but most of them were shaking their heads.

Last Saturday, I asked my son David if he was comfortable leading our family in a Bible study. With a little sheepish grin, he said “yes,” and the next morning, with eagerness in his voice, he gathered us. Some took a little more time to gather than others, but we eventually made it. Then, as we dropped into the couches in our pajamas, David had us read about the moment when Simeon met Jesus.  This man had been waiting for years to meet the Messiah, and right after Jesus was born, God arranged the meeting.  One verse jumped out at me.

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace” (Luke 2:29).

Simeon 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’s 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).  Hard changes will come—moving on from healthy knees to achy ones, from plastic kitchen sets to kids in college and from parents who run faster than us to parents who could use a little help on pasture walks.

And eventually, a bell will ring for us to say goodbye and leave this “classroom” we call life, but with that bell can come the peace those angels sang about.  It’s 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.


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